South Africa may not have the largest presence in space but the country certainly contributes. Our astronomy is top-notch and the country has serious satellite skills as well. It’s perhaps unsurprising that South Africa has been selected to participate in NASA’s current Artemis explorations.
Specifically, the country is set to host one of NASA’s ground-based tracking stations. The place is Matjiesfontein in the Karoo, an area often selected for astronomical exploration. A lack of interfering infrastructure and favourable weather makes the area ideal for this sort of science.
We wouldn’t Artemis this
Ground was broken on the new Artemis facility earlier this week by a representative of NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation division, Laingsburg’s mayor, and a member of SA’s Department of Science and Innovation. The R70 million facility, when complete, will include a gigantic NASA-provided 20-metre dish, in addition to the array of other antennae on site.
The Artemis tracking station is one of three sites (so far) being developed around the world. The other two are based in the United States and in Australia. The trio will work together to support future lunar and Martian missions. At home, the Karoo ground station will be operated by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA).
It’s far too soon to say how the new facility will impact South Africa’s space exploration ambitions, but we’ve still got time on that score. The inaugural Artemis mission has been delayed yet again. This time, a tropical storm is gumming up the works. NASA intends to leave its Space Launch System rocket on the launchpad and give it another shot on 16 November, once the storm has passed.