Category Archives: Space in Africa

C/2015 G2 (MASTER) is first South African Comet discovery in 35 years

The first image of Comet C/2015 G2 MASTER (originally designated M503ujx before it was confirmed as a new discovery) taken by the MASTER-SAAO telescope on 8 April 2015. The image was produced from adding together four exposures taken in different coloured filters to produce a colour image of the field.

In the early hours of the 7th April, an un-manned robotic telescope, MASTER-SAAO, situated near Sutherland in the Karoo, discovered a new comet. This is the first comet to be discovered in South Africa since 1978.  The Russian – South African run telescope has been scanning the southern skies since it began operating in late December 2014, looking for “transients” – new objects which appear in the sky for the first time. Since then, over 60 new  objects have been discovered, most of them being erupting or exploding stars. However, the MASTER-SAAO telescope has just discovered its first comet. 

Comets are often described as “dirty snowballs”  and are composed of a ball of frozen ice with chemical compounds and dust mixed in. As a comet approaches the Sun it begins to melt resulting in a halo of gas and dust surrounding the solid nucleus called the coma. The Solar wind pushes the gas and dust released away from the comet resulting in the beautiful tails that we see associated with comets. There are actually two tails to a comet, one is made of gas (ions) which comes from the frozen compounds melting, the other is a dust tail again caused by the gases from the nucleus evaporating taking the dust with them. Astronomers are interested in studying comets because they represent the oldest and most primitive objects in the solar system and give astronomers an insight as to what conditions were like at the formation of our solar system.

The MASTER-SAAO telescope at Sutherland.

The recently discovered comet has been officially named “Comet C/2015 G2 (MASTER)” and the discovery was confirmed on the 10th April by the Minor Planet Center, based at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the USA. It is the 20th comet discovered so far in 2015, and is currently heading rapidly south through the southern skies, brightening as it does so. Currently, the comet is about 180 million km from the Earth. It will make its closest approach to the Sun, at 116 million km (just a little further from the Sun than Venus), on the 23rd May when it is expected to be at its brightest. Although the comet is not particularly bright, the image taken by the MASER-SAAO telescope shows a distinct ion (gas) tail, produced by the interaction of the Solar wind and the comet. As it brightens, the comet should be visible in dark skies (i.e. away from city lights) using binoculars. The last comet discovered in South Africa, Comet D/1978 R1 (Haneda-Campos), was co-discovered by Jose da Silva Campos, observing from Durban on 1st September 1978, and an astronomer in Japan, Toshio Haneda.

The MASTER-SAAO facility is one member of a network of telescopes operated by the Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Sternberg Astronomical Institute. Most of the other telescopes in the network are located in Russia but there are two telescopes in the network located in the Southern Hemisphere: the MASTER-SAAO facility just outside Sutherland and a smaller telescope in Argentina. The Sutherland facility is a joint project with the South African Astronomical Observatory, aimed to discover and study southern optical transients – new objects which suddenly appear in the sky. It is the first transient detection system to be situated at Sutherland and will eventually be joined by another similar system, MeerLICHT, later this year. Discoveries from these telescopes will be followed up by more intensive studies using other South African telescopes such as SALT and MeerKAT (once it begins operating) and also the HESS gamma-ray facility in Namibia.   

Are you ready to “Rock The Planet”?

“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”
— Yuri Gagarin, 1st human in space.

Yuri’s Night is a global celebration of humanity’s past, present, and future in space. Yuri’s Night parties and events are held around the world every April in commemoration of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to venture into space on April 12, 1961, and the inaugural launch of the first Space Shuttle on April 12, 1981.

Join the Africa2Moon Team at the Cape Town Yuri’s Night on Safari Party on Saturday evening, April 11 2015

There will be special messages, VIP Guests, Raffles, Giveaways and ticket holders (free tickets via Eventbrite) qualify for Special Offers on Cocktails & Pizzas.

Find out more by clicking this banner

You can also join the event on Facebook:

Join the event on Facebook

LISTEN: The first person on MARS could be South African!

The Mars One project aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars by 2024. With over 200 000 initial applications, the Dutch-based venture has whittled down the most recent shortlist to 100. Nick Hamman on 5fm caught up with Adriana Marais, one of four South Africans left on the list.

Visit the MARS ONE website

View Nick’s Podcast’s

WATCH: Africa2Moon Mission featured on CNBC Africa

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 2.37.38 PM


Fri, 16 Jan 2015 15:27:49 GMT

A team of scientists are raising funds to help inspire youth in Africa to reach for the moon, which forms part of a space exploration mission -the first of its kind for the continent. CNBC Africa’s Benedict Pather compiled this report.


African private aerospace group provides satellites essential for growth

The satellite industry is destined to become an essential element in bolstering Africa’s future economic growth and the social wellbeing of its inhabitants in areas such as education, improved living standards, food security, and health.

New technologies and continual miniaturization in the field of satellite engineering have made satellites progressively more capable of putting even the remotest African village in direct contact with quality information. Improved government services, the management of natural resources, the monitoring of natural disasters, ecological threats and the status of infrastructure are all now possible irrespective of location thanks to satellites.

Dr. Sias Mostert, CEO of the SCS Aerospace Group (SCS AG)
Dr. Sias Mostert, CEO of the SCS Aerospace Group (SCS AG)

According to Dr. Sias Mostert CEO of the South African Space Commercial Services Aerospace Group (SCS AG), this new technology applied with lightweight small Earth observation satellites, is effective for the management of natural resources, in particular agriculture in addition to the monitoring of natural threats such as floods, severe storms and large fires. Physical infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports, bridges, pipelines, dams, and antennas, which are exposed to inclement weather and deterioration, can also be accurately monitored to detect minute changes and institute preventative action. This all combines to enable authorities to make informed decisions not only to improve living conditions and social wellbeing but to save lives as well.

Artist’s impression of the South African-developed satellite Phoenix-20 HS in orbit
Artist’s impression of the South African-developed satellite Phoenix-20 HS in orbit

“The backbone of this new advanced remote sensing system is based on two technological developments. The first is an optical hyperspectral sensor that is able to break up images into many different spectral bands to unveil more details about the Earth’s surface. The second solution is a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging sensor an advanced remote sensing system which can provide continuous updates irrespective of whether it is day or night, and independent of weather and cloud obscuration. Ultimately it can be used for detecting changes in the surface of the earth of only a few millimeters over time,” says Dr. Mostert.

“Monitoring from space has many practical uses such as sensing the health of agriculture crops for food security, forest canopies to prevent diseases, soils and vegetation for restoration after mining operations, aquatic ecosystems for future water resource, mapping of natural vegetation, shoreline changes, the effect of climate change and monitoring for the onset of natural disasters,” he says.

At the same time, there are also moves afoot by big players in the satellite industry such as South African born billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX is set to challenge the cable-dependent broadband industry.  SpaceX plans to launch a constellation of up to 700 satellites which will deliver Internet services anywhere on Earth without the use of cables.

All the while, companies such as Google, Facebook and Outernet are also hard at work making the delivery of information through the Internet possible in even the remotest regions on Earth.  A solar powered antenna providing Wi-Fi to all the inhabitants of a remote African village is no longer just a dream.

The Somerset West-based SCS Aerospace Group is South Africa’s leading private small satellite contractor, with business interests and ongoing contracts in numerous countries around the world. They recently launched a new product the Phoenix 20-Hyperspectral Satellite, which employs the hyperspectral remote sensing system.

Phoenix Team
Some members of the South African Phoenix-20 HS micro-satellite design team with an artist’s impression of the product. From left are Duncan Stanton project manager, Hendrik Burger chief technical officer, and Marcello Bartolini systems engineer

The group operates in partnership with a number of companies specializing in various fields of satellite applications and satellite engineering. The applications include Geo-Risk Management, Geo Information Systems, and Social Development.

The Benefits of Space Security for Development in Africa (U.S. Department of State)

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH)
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
September 8, 2014

Original on Department of State website:

Thank you so much for having me here today.

It is an honor to be here at COSTECH and to have the opportunity to speak with you. This is my first time visiting Tanzania, so it is a real pleasure to be with you today.

I’m also particularly pleased to be here in following the conclusion of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. As you know, last month, President Obama welcomed leaders from across this continent to Washington for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first such event of its kind. The President also welcomed outstanding young African leaders who had been participating in the Young African Leaders Initiatives.

These meetings built on the President’s visit to Africa in the summer of 2013 and helped strengthen ties between the United States and one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions.

The theme of the Summit was “Investing in the Next Generation.” I’m here today to continue to discuss that theme and to once again underscore the importance of U.S.-Africa cooperation.

Specifically, I would like to talk to you about the importance of space to African nations and our work of ensuring the long-term sustainability of the outer space environment.

It is critical that we work together to preserve and protect outer space for the next generation so countries like Tanzania can continue to utilize space applications for sustainable development on Earth.

Why Space Matters to Africa

Outer space and space assets – like satellites – provide value to countries and peoples around the world. Space systems provide tremendous benefits to the health and development of African nations, even those without space programs or satellites. As you know, space has real benefits for countries like Tanzania as well as all of Africa.

First, space is about connecting people.

Navigation satellite systems and satellite communications help us navigate the globe and connect and communicate with people around the world. Mobile phones, GPS, and television broadcasts all rely on space systems to connect us to distant places and people. For example, if you’ve ever used a cell phone in a remote area, you may have used a satellite to connect your call.

Second, space is about health.

Many countries in Africa and around the world suffer shortages of doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, and facilities. Recently, many nations have been turning to space systems to help deal with this issue. For example, the European Space Agency, through the “Satellite African eHealth validation” program, is providing telemedicine services through satellite technology. This program connects remote regions in Sub-Saharan Africa with hospitals in larger cities for medical services and education.

Third, space is about education.

Space assets can be utilized to provide access to all levels of education to students that might not otherwise have access. African nations are working with other nations around the world to provide a variety of tele-education services by connecting leading African and foreign universities to remote classrooms.

Fourth, space is about collecting critical information.

African nations utilize Earth observation data for a variety of activities, including disaster monitoring and resource management. For example, Kenya hosts a UN Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) which utilizes data from American Earth observation satellites to respond to requests from member States for crop monitoring, water conditions, and disaster warning. The RCMRD also hosts the East Africa node of the SERVIR program, a joint venture between NASA and USAID which provides satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to help developing nations improve their environmental decision making.

Fifth, like the goal of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit said, space is about investing in the next generation.

Active space sciences and astronomy programs also can encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math studies. As a part of the NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge, the Agency is currently discussing opportunities for the government of South Africa to contribute to the global search for hazardous Near-Earth Objects as a means of boosting South Africa’s focus on human capital development.

Sixth, space is about growth and development here on Earth.

Space technology and its applications, such as Earth observation systems, meteorological satellites, communication satellites and global navigation systems make significant contributions to achieving sustainable development in Africa.

In fact, during the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012, delegations from around the world specifically recognized the importance of space-technology-based data and reliable geospatial information for sustainable development and recognized the need to support developing countries in their efforts to collect environmental data.

Space technology can be useful for nations with rapidly growing populations. In India, the government uses satellite imagery to help with city planning, especially those cities undergoing massive demographic changes.

Many people around the world are also using space assets to help with forest management. Satellite companies and foreign governments are making satellite imagery available to other governments and NGOs so that they can more effectively track changes and monitor land use.

Additionally, commercial ventures, relying on emerging small and microsatellite technologies, offer the potential for even wider access to critical earth observation information.

The use of space technology benefits Africa and its peoples in various ways. Space applications offer effective tools for connecting people around the world, monitoring and conducting assessments of the environment, managing the use of natural resources, managing responses to natural disasters and providing education and health services in remote areas.

How Africa Can Work Together on Space

These and countless other examples make clear that space is critical to the developing countries, including those in Africa. The number of African nations with their own space agencies and/or satellites continues to grow. African nations are more reliant on space applications than ever before to ensure their sustainable development. However, in order to continue utilizing these essential space applications, we need to preserve the outer space environment.

The long-term sustainability of space activities is at serious risk from space debris and from irresponsible actors and their actions. This summer, that risk became even clearer. On July 23, the Chinese Government conducted a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. Despite China’s claims that this was not an anti-satellite weapon, or ASAT, test, let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment. That event was indeed an ASAT test.

Irresponsible acts against space systems do not just harm the space environment, but they also disrupt services that the citizens, companies, and governments around the world depend on. Ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment is in the vital interests of the United States, African nations, and the entire global community.

As African nations benefit more and more from space, and many begin to own satellites, it’s our hope that African nations will play an active role in developing international “best practices” of responsible behavior, such as discussions on the draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.

Threats to Outer Space

The utilization of space for sustainable development is not unique to Africa; nations and peoples around the globe now recognize the benefits that space applications have to offer. Today, approximately 60 nations, international organizations, and government consortia operate satellites. There are also numerous commercial and academic satellite operators.

This evolution in the use of outer space has greatly benefited society and has brought people around the world closer together, but it also presents challenges. As more countries and people benefit from space applications and the demand for satellite use has grown, the orbital environment has become increasingly congested.

Today, the orbits close to Earth, where most of our operations are conducted, are increasingly littered with debris. The U.S. is currently tracking tens of thousands of pieces of space debris 10 centimeters or larger in various Earth orbits. Experts warn that the current quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increases the odds of future damaging collisions. I strongly believe it is in our individual and collective interest that all spacefaring nations work to maintain the sustainability of the space environment, so that we can continue to reap the developmental benefits that space provides here on Earth.

Code of Conduct

Perhaps one of the most beneficial actions we can take for ensuring sustainability and security in space would be adopting of an International Code of Conduct. The United States is working with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.

An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space by establishing guidelines to reduce the risks of debris-generating events, including collisions. As more countries field space capabilities, it is in all of our interests to work together to establish internationally accepted “rules of the road” to ensure that the safety and sustainability of space is protected. We strongly encourage all African nations to participate in the development of the International Code of Conduct and rules of responsible behavior in space.


When President Obama addressed the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, he said this:

“I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children.”

Space plays a major role in facilitating those connections, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with you today to discuss the benefits of space and how we can utilize its power to strengthen the future for generations to come.

Thank you very much.

Max Planck Society Invests €11 million in SKA precursor MeerKAT

MeerKAT Array
MeerKAT Array

The Minister for Science and Technology of South Africa and the President of the Max-Planck-Society (MPG) today announced that the MPG and the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn will make available a total of €11 million (approximately R150 million) to build and install radio receivers on the South African MeerKAT radio telescope.

The receivers will be built by the MPIfR and will operate in the S band of radio frequencies. They will be used primarily for research on pulsars, the rapid spinning neutron star which emit very regular radio pulses and so can be used as highly accurate clocks to test extreme physics. Two other sets of receivers, for the L band and ULF band of frequencies, are already under construction in South Africa.

The President of the MPG, Martin Stratmann, said: “We consider MeerKAT to be an important undertaking as it is not only a preeminent astronomy project, but also a light-house project for science in Africa in general. The MPG is very pleased to enable close collaboration between its scientists and the South African community and looks forward to see MeerKAT’s first glimpse of the Universe with the receivers of the MPIfR”.

Welcoming the strong and growing collaboration between South Africa and Germany, Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor said that the investment is an endorsement of the excellence of the MeerKAT and the South African team which designed and is building it. Minister Pandor added that “this significant investment by a leading global research organisation of prestigious repute, home to several Nobel Prize winners, was an important vote of confidence, in South African science in general and the MeerKAT specifically.” South Africa and Germany have a vibrant science and technology partnership, with radio astronomy fast becoming a blossoming flagship area of cooperation, evidence by huge interest in academic and industrial cooperation from both sides. Minister Pandor concluded, “MeerKAT is already acclaimed internationally as a world-class instrument“ thanks to our partnership with Max Planck, MeerKAT’s ability to perform transformational science for the benefit of global knowledge production will be considerably boosted. Awaiting the start of construction of the SKA, South Africa and our international partners such as Max Planck, continue to set the pace for global radio astronomy.”

MeerKAT will be the most sensitive cm wave radio telescope in the world until the SKA is built. It is expected to do transformational science on pulsars and other areas of astronomy.

Africa’s Space Landscape

Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco & South Africa all have a national Space Agency!

The African Union Working Group Space has agreed on a draft African Space Policy and a framework for developing a draft Space Strategy. These documents will be considered by the Ministers in charge of space matters in the continent and recommend them for adoption by the AU relevant policy organs.

Egypt, Nigeria & South Africa have all launched and operated satellites.

At Mars 2005, 45 African countries out of the total of 54 countries had signed the RASCOM Convention.

Nine Countries in Africa are involved in the Square Kilometer Array. Thousands of SKA antenna dishes will be built in South Africa (in the Karoo, not far from Carnarvon), with outstations in other parts of South Africa, as well as in eight African partner countries, namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. Another part of the telescope, the low-frequency array, plus more dishes, will be built in Western Australia.

At the 2010 launch of the African Physical Society in Dakar a number of astronomers from throughout the continent and the African diaspora resolved to form the African Astronomical Society in much the same manner as the African Physical Society was being formed. Following this meeting Pius Okeke wrote a whitepaper on the formation and the structure of the African Astronomical Society that was widely dissiminated amongst African astronomers.

In addition there has been a marked growth of private Space companies across the continent.