[FPSPACE] news report about future South African satellite

Keith Gottschalk kgottschalk at uwc.ac.za
Tue Nov 11 03:02:21 EST 2014

Business Day (Johannesburg)  11 November 2014 pg.4 carries a news report:

1) A Russian-built South African spy satellite was initially scheduled for launch 27 February at Baikonur; the latest schedule is for 18 December.

2) Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula criticised opposition (DA) MP David Maynier as "irresponsible" for asking any questions in public about the spysat. She said she would only answer questions about it in Parliamentary defence committee meetings closed to the public & press. She asked for all questions on the spysat to be removed from the Question Paper of Parliament.

   My thoughts:

   Austerity budgets mean that the SANDF got a budget increase less than inflation for the next 12 months. So for an expensive project to go ahead, it has to be given priority over other projects. If I try to put myself into the minds of South African Defence Intelligence, & ask what are the most urgent situations I want facts about now, the first things that come to my mind:

1) South African-made drones do not have the range to patrol South African territorial waters down to the sub-Antarctic Marion and Prince Edward Isles over 1000 kms to our south; nor do they have aerial refueling capability. So sat images & sigint on illegal ships such as fish poachers, & drug smugglers, would be useful.

2) South Africa has blue-hatted (UNO) & green-hatted (African Union) peacekeepers deployed in the semi-desert Darfur province of Sudan; & in the heavily-forested eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The militias of diverse warlords shoot at them from time to time. So any forewarning of ambushes etc will also be welcome. I think that there are certain wavelengths of either microwave or infrared which can penetrate foliage.

3) Our borders are peaceful, it is not armour nor even vehicles, but only unemployed individuals who pour across our frontiers in search of casual jobs. But I imagine that any military establishment would want as a matter of principle to episodically check borders.

   I have no further reflections on what our Defence Intelligence would currently feel burning curiosity about!

   There was public talk about five years ago that South Africa would put out tenders for its own industry to manufacture a synthetic aperture radar midi-sat, & pay someone to launch it. But such hopes faded away. South Africa & its universities have built & launched three Earth Observation microsats & cubesats to date. But these had only low resolution imagery. South Africa could not currently build a recon sat with Keyhole 12-level resolution!

      - Keith

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