By Jessie Taylor
When you look up at the stars, you may not realise that a complex network of satellites is gathering data that informs government policy and decision making.
Those satellites, and various other technologies, form part of South Africa’s space science and research programmes managed by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). The man at the helm of this mission to learn more about the skies above us is Dr. Valanathan Munsami.
Looking to space
Dr. Munsami oversaw the establishment of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and today holds the position of its CEO in 2017.
He holds a PhD in Physics and a Masters of Business Leadership, and a Space Studies Program Diploma. He also possesses a Certificate in International Air, Space, and Telecommunications Law.
The Academy’s International Board of Trustees is a dedicated governing body of distinguished members from various fields. These include diplomacy, business, science, education, philanthropy and the arts. Trustees believe in the power of international understanding to promote peace across the world. The IASL is a unique platform responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
Dr. Munsami is no stranger to the complexities of international relations and space policy-making.
In 2007, Dr. Munsami joined the Department of Science and Technology as Director for Space Science and Technology. He was later promoted to Chief Director. In this position, he was involved in developing South Africa’s National Space Strategy and National Space Policy.
When South Africa won the bid for co-host intergovernmental radio telescope project the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in 2012, he became the Chief Specialist for Astronomy and African Space Science. He led the development of South Africa’s Multi-Wavelength Astronomy Strategy and the SKA Readiness Strategy.
Dr. Musami has held several positions that deal with space exploration and research, including a seat on the South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA).
He has held the position of vice president of the International Astronautics Federation (IAF) for Developing Countries and Emerging Nations and served on the Advisory Boards of the Global Space Congress (GSC) and the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). SGAC is a global non-governmental, non-profit organisation and network which aims to represent university students and young space professionals to the United Nations, space agencies, industry, and academia.
He has also chaired the African Union Space Working Group, which was tasked with developing the African Space Policy and the African Space Strategy that was approved by the African Union Heads of State in January 2016.
Guiding space research efforts
South Africa has been involved in space research and activities for many decades. The country assisted with early international space efforts in the second half of the 20th century and observed the Earth’s magnetic field at stations around Southern Africa.
But in 2010, The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) was created to promote the use of space and strengthen cooperation in space-related activities. The Agency also plays an important role in fostering research in space science, advancing scientific engineering, and supporting industrial development in space technologies.
Much of SANSA’s work involves monitoring the Earth and our surrounding environment. The data from these observations is used to ensure that navigation, communication technology and weather forecasting services function as intended.
SANSA operations fall into four programme areas:
The Earth Observation programme processes Earth observation data, collected primarily from satellites, to support policy-making, decision-making, economic growth and sustainable development in South Africa.
The Space Engineering programme develops, builds and tests systems and sub-systems for satellites.
Space Operations provides state-of-the-art and globally competitive ground station facilities and services for global launch activities. This includes satellite tracking, telemetry and command, launch support, in-orbit testing, mission control and space navigation.
The Space Science programme operates a wide range of infrastructure across southern Africa and Antarctica, all dedicated to studying the Earth’s magnetic field, the Sun, and the near-space environment. The Space Science programme also hosts the only Space Weather Warning Centre in Africa, providing early warnings and forecasts on space weather activity.
Dr. Munsami’s role is essential in guiding South Africa’s space research and exploration fields, ensuring that the country generates and processes data essential for policy-making at government level.