The Space Science Directorate of the South African National Space Agency (established in 2011) has emerged from the original Hermanus Magnetic Observatory which was first established in 1941.
In order to develop a scientific understanding of the global nature of the Earth’s magnetic field, a requirement is to have simultaneous observations at various locations on the Earth’s surface. It was for this reason that Prof A Ogg, at the University of Cape Town (UCT), was requested to establish a magnetic observatory in Cape Town by the International Commission for the Polar Year in 1932.
However, by 1940 the developing suburban electric railway system was adversely affecting the geomagnetic field observations and it was necessary to relocate the observatory to a magnetically clean site. A new site was identified in Hermanus, because it was sufficiently remote from electric railway disturbances and had been proved by a magnetic survey to be suitable in other aspects. The Hermanus Magnetic Observatory officially commenced operation
on January 1, 1941.
When Prof. Ogg retired in 1946, he was succeeded as Head of the Observatory by Mr A M van Wijk, who directed the Observatory until his retirement in 1977. During this time the Magnetic Observatory was incorporated into the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as an independent research unit in 1969. Mr Van Wijk was succeeded by Dr G J Kühn, who served as Head till 2000, when he was succeeded by Dr P R Sutcliffe. In 2001 the Observatory was incorporated into the National Research Foundation. Finally the Observatory was incorporated into the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in 2011 and is now called SANSA Space Science.
The decades that followed World War II saw a gradual growth in both the routine and scientific research activities at the Observatory. Participation in the internationally coordinated scientific programmes such as the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957, the International Quiet Sun Year (IQSY) in 1964-65 and the International Magnetospheric Study (IMS) in 1976-78 contributed in several ways to the development of an active research programme at the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory. As a result of these activities, the Observatory formed part of the first South African Antarctic Expedition (SANAE 1) in 1960, when South Africa took over the Norwegian Station. Apart from magnetic observations, the Observatory also assumed responsibility for the auroral observations. SANSA Space Science continues every year to carry out research in the Antarctic, Marion and Gough Islands.
Since the first magnetic observatory was founded in Cape Town in 1841, the observation and study of geomagnetism has grown so that it is now part of a research program at SANSA Space Science involving research on the Earth's space environment, as well as the practical application of physics and space technology for the benefit of mankind.