In 2016, the French space agency CNES awarded SANSA with a contract to host one of four new antenna systems at the Hartebeesthoek facility, reiterating the trust between SANSA and CNES that has been built over almost 35 years of working together. This 10-year agreement demonstrates CNES’s continued confidence in SANSA, with the possibility of extending the contract for an additional 10 years thereafter.
Located at the SA Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in the northern Cape, the OSR Laboratory was constructed in 2016 to conduct research into atmospheric and near-space phenomena such as atmospheric gravity waves, thermospheric winds, and sprites. An agreement was reached with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) to host a space debris tracking station as part of the global SMARTnet™ (Small Aperture Robotic Telescope Network).
SANSA makes use of international EISCAT facilities to conduct experiments studying the ionosphere, including: plasma resonances and instabilities, artificial auroras, black auroras, polar mesospheric summer echoes, thermospheric long-term trend, and ion-neutral coupling. EISCAT consists of 6 sophisticated high-power (mega-watt range) radars located in Finland, Norway and Sweden. The radars consist of UHF, VHF and HF facilities in Scandinavia, UHF facilities on Svalbard island, and an HF ionospheric modification facility for active experiments in Norway.
SANSA maintains observational equipment at Gough Island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, Marion Island in the Southern Indian Ocean, the South African National Antarctic Expedition base IV (SANAE) in Antarctica, and on the SA Agulhas II research vessel. Using instruments such as magnetometers, GPS receivers and a suite of instruments that monitor very low frequency (VLF) waves, researchers study the near-Earth space environment, particularly the disturbances to the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar activity.
The South African Ionosonde Network consists of four ionosonde stations (Grahamstown, Louisvale, Madimbo and Hermanus), equipped with Digisonde 4D Ionosondes (specialised radar to study the ionosphere). The Grahamstown station has been in existence since 1973, Louisvale and Madimbo have been in operation since 2000, and Hermanus became operational in 2008. Data from the South African Ionosonde Network has been shared internationally for many years, is used in SANSA’s Space Weather Centre, and contributes to postgraduate student training and various local and international research projects.
SANSA has been part of the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) since 1997, operating its radar from the SANAE IV base in Antarctica. SuperDARN is an international collaboration of researchers using high frequency (HF) radars to study space weather via the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. The SANSA SuperDARN HR radar upgraded to a fully digital radar in 2014, the only SuperDARN radar operated by an African country and one of the most technologically advanced radars in the Southern Hemisphere.
SANSA (South Africa), INPE (Brazil) and INGV (Italy) space agencies are working together on DemoGRAPE, which is designed to improve satellite navigation in Antarctica. DemoGRAPE is using cutting-edge technology to assess ionospheric delay and ionospheric scintillations in the polar regions, installed and operated at the South African base in Antarctica, SANAE IV, since 2015. Software and data is shared between the three partners using cloud computing infrastructure.
The Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) magnetometer network project aims to record and evaluate very small geomagnetic signatures using SQUID magnetometers in a magnetically quiet environment. The SQUID located at SANSA in Hermanus forms part of a future network that could identify lightning and sprite magnetic signatures, Schumann resonances and possible seismic precursors. This project is a collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch, University of Avignon, University of Savoy, and the Low Noise Laboratory (LSBB) in France.
SANSA collaborates with the aviation sector and government to address the impact of space weather on aviation over the African region and meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements. This includes developing an aviation space weather advisory, expanding the SANSA Space Weather Centre to an operationalised environment, adding real-time navigation and radiation alert products to SANSA’s product offering, training aviation users on space weather information, and integrating space weather into air traffic management systems.
The SBAS-Africa programme is testing a satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) to demonstrate the benefits of SBAS capabilities in Southern and Eastern Africa. The project is funded by and in collaboration with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and fully aligns with South Africa’s SBAS strategy. A preliminary business case has been produced and promises to deliver R15.6 billion (discounted) to the South African economy over 25 years with a return on investment of better than 10:1. The South African SBAS can also be extended to deliver major economic benefits to SADC countries.
SANSA partners with a number of organisations across the Earth observation value chain to organise an annual Earth Observation Open Innovation Challenge. The challenge has two objectives: increasing awareness of the use of Earth observation data to support evidence-based decision-making, and stimulating the development of innovative applications, particularly by SMMEs and start-ups. To participate or find out more information on the 2018 SA Earth Observation Challenge, visit the website.