The Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, has welcomed the signing of an agreement between the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
The agreement, on the RadioAstron space satellite, was signed today (26 March 2013) in Durban, coinciding with Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to the country.
Dr Sandile Malinga, CEO of SANSA, said that the agreement paved the way for the two countries to work together on the development of science and space technologies.
In 2006 the South African and Russian governments signed an agreement to cooperate on the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.
Speaking in Durban, Minister Hanekom said: "This agreement not only confirms a strategic role we can play in the area of global space science and technology due to our geographic location in the Southern Hemisphere but also provides an opportunity to use space science and technology to contribute towards socio-economic development"
The RadioAstron satellite was launched by Roscosmos on 18 July 2011. It carries a radio telescope that will obtain images and coordinates of various radio-emitting objects. The idea is to complement the capability of ground-based very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) instruments with a space-based VLBI instrument.
The project is an international collaboration led by the Astro Space Centre of the Lebedev Physical Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences) in Moscow. Other partners include the European Space Agency, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (USA), the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (India), and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Australia).
The RadioAstron mission will support and enhance investment in radio astronomy infrastructure in Africa, contributing to capacity building and socio-economic development on the continent. RadioAstron will complement other radio astronomy facilities in Africa (like the Square Kilometre Array), enhancing the continent's reputation as a premier destination for radio astronomy.
Although the RadioAstron aerial is only 10 metres across, and is dwarfed by many ground-based radio telescopes, by combining signals with telescopes on the ground (through interferometry) RadioAstron is able to make observations with an unparalleled level of precision. If considered as a single, virtual telescope, RadioAstron would be the world's largest radio telescope, with a "dish" measuring about 390 000 km (almost 30 times the Earth's diameter or about the same size as the distance between the Earth and the moon).
Telkom has made an 18-m C-Band antenna available for RadioAston tracking and acquisition in South Africa.
Under the agreement, Roscosmos will provide the hardware for upgrading the tracking station (antenna) for compatibility with RadioAstron, while SANSA will install and maintain the upgraded hardware and operate the tracking station.