ADDRESS BY THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION, DR PHIL MJWARA, AT THE SOD-TURNING CEREMONY FOR THE DEEP SPACE GROUND STATION AT MATJIESFONTEIN ON 8 NOVEMBER 2022
Ladies and gentlemen:
It is my privilege to speak to you today as South Africa marks another milestone in its long history of space science and its deep space collaboration with America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
South African personnel working at the Hartebeesthoek deep space tracking station in South Africa in the late 1950s and 60s helped gather data for NASA’s Apollo Moon landing, and today, we break ground for a new space vehicle tracking and communications ground station here in Matjiesfontein. This will contribute to further and deeper exploration of space – perhaps sending astronauts on a mission to Mars in a decade or two.
Meanwhile, the South Africa-NASA partnership will see continued skills development in space science and technology, which the Department of Science and Innovation has been investing in for years. The skills we build will have applications in other fields too, and we expect the exciting prospects of space exploration to inspire some of our youngsters to enter careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Space science and growing human resources are both priorities in our Decadal Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation, which is ultimately aimed at using science to drive socio-economic growth and a better life for South Africans.
As a country, we know the benefits that our investments in space science and technology have brought. We see the establishment of the Matjiesfontein space tracking and communication facility as helping us to enhance our own capabilities and providing us with a range of potential advantages, one of which is the development of mutually beneficial international partnerships that allow us to fast-track our development trajectory.
Our investments in the South African National Space Agency have brought great success in skills development, knowledge generation and the establishment and operation of research infrastructure. They have also helped to create a society that is more knowledgeable about science and technology – a great public good.
Matjiesfontein is well situated for support to NASA because of its geographic location. Apart from its low radio frequency interference and its good weather conditions, it is in the Southern Hemisphere, where NASA needs to situate additional satellite tracking infrastructure. In turn, Matjiesfontein will reap spin-off benefits in the form of local economic growth.
The ground station and space tracking and communication antenna to be built here in Matjiesfontein will offer further opportunities for South African participation in international space programmes. The SANSA-NASA partnership will give both parties the opportunity to make an even bigger impact on the local and international market.
As the Department of Science and Innovation, we welcome this partnership between SANSA and NASA, and as government, we pledge to provide as much as support as possible to this visionary venture.
Thank you for your attention.