The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have partnered to build a new deep-space ground station in the country’s semi-desert Karoo region to help track history-making NASA’s missions to the moon and beyond.
The signing was followed by a sod-turning ceremony with NASA and the South African National Space Agency (Sansa).
Space agency officials on Tuesday, said the station will come online by 2025 in Matjiesfontein, in the Western Cape.
Through its Artemis programme, NASA aims to land the first woman or person of colour on the moon by 2025, with the space administration targeting this November for an inaugural launch of its next-generation rocket ship.
The DSI will fund the new deep-space ground station and NASA supporting it.
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The initiative, which is expected to cost R70 million, is an extension of Sansa’s space operations to support global missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
DSI Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara, said NASA seen potential for the deep-space ground station in South Africa.
“NASA would not come to South Africa if they didn’t feel that we have capacities to do the work in partnership with them.
South Africa ideal
Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator and manager at NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) unit said there are more stations being planned.
“Location, weather and existing infrastructure make Matjiesfontein the ideal place to build this antenna. We really couldn’t have asked for a better spot on Earth than here in South Africa, with whom we first partnered six decades ago to land the first humans on the lunar surface.”
“This is going to be one of three stations supporting the communication with all of our astronauts in and around the moon, and providing viable services to our entire Moon to Mars programme,” said Younes.
South African space initiatives
Tiaan Strydom, acting Commercial Services Executive at Sansa said the agency is pleased that this project has reached a significant milestone with the support of the DSI and NASA.
“The Matjiesfontien ground station extends Sansa space capabilities and specialisation, taking the agency a notch higher as a global player in space science and technology.”
The Matjiesfontein site will join future LEGS facilities at NASA’s White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and a still-to-be-determined location in Australia.
South Africa was home to a ground tracking station outside Johannesburg at Hartebeesthoek that played a critical role in NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960s.
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