SA seeks to nail down strategy for earth-observation assets

“The main purpose of the South African Earth Observation Strategy (SAEOS) is to ensure that the reception, preparation and dissemination of satellite information are supported by the requisite infrastructure,” reports Council
for Scientific and Industrial Research Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) earth observation service centre manager Dr Corné Eloff.

The SAC, which is planned to be transferred to the proposed new South African space agency, most probably later this year, is the lead agency on SAEOS.

“The SAC will become the earth observation data centre (EODC) for South Africa,” he states,“with core functions of facilitating imagery distribution contracts with foreign suppliers, receiving imagery, processing imagery, and distributing these processed images in this country, as well as other services we supply to the government.”

An essential precondition to developing this strategy is the ascertainment of the requirements of the various government departments, in terms of the type of imagery, the resolution of the imagery, the frequency (‘revisit’ period) of satellite overflights, and the degree of processing of the images.

To this end, the SAC last month hosted a satellite imagery workshop, attended by interested government departments and by international satellite companies, so that the latter could show their product offerings to the former, including the latest and future technologies.

The representatives of the various government departments also discussed their imagery needs and desires with one another and with the SAC.

“Our aim is to set up a ‘user requirement matrix’,” reports Eloff. “This will guide us with regard to what applications are running within government, what frequency they need – for example, Statistics South Africa needs annual coverage, but other departments need more frequent coverage – and what land area they need coverage of.”

Some departments and agencies may need coverage of the whole country, others of only major urban areas, and
yet others just of maize growing districts, and so on.

Likewise, different departments need different degrees of resolution.

“We received feedback from some of our stakeholders making it clear that a need for a national 2,5 m 2,5 m resolution coverage is still a requirement,” he reveals. “Statistics South Africa, in particular, needs this.”

This is high-resolution coverage and is provided by the French Spot 5 satellite.

“So we decided to check with all government departments if they needed such imagery and if it should continue.”

The SAC EODC is expected to be a self-sustaining agency, but not a profit-driven one. As a result, it cannot afford, on its own, to invest in the full range of imagery capabilities now available.

“This may change with the new space agency,” he points out, “but, currently, other departments must make investments if they want access to certain capabilities, and we need to know how much they can invest.”

The result was the workshop and the project to develop a national imagery strategy.

_“We want to be proactive, not reactive, concerning imagery,”_affirms Eloff.

The intent is to give the end-users the selection choice. We will guide them.

“We’ll write a report to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the DST will ensure that the new space agency meets these requirements, with a focus on South Africa’s own planned satellite constellation. Once we are part of the new space agency, we’ll have to provide applications rather than raw data. We will have to prepare properly client-orientated data.”

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu

Author: EARSC

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