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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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South Africa’s New Ground Station To Help Track NASA’s Space Missions

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In South Africa’s Karoo, a semi-desert region, a new deep-space ground station is being constructed and will be operational to support NASA in tracking its revolutionary missions to the moon and ever farther, said NASA officials on Tuesday. 

NASA is aiming for this month for an inaugural launch of its next-generation rocket ship, which has been delayed for weeks by technical issues and bad weather. Through its Artemis programme, NASA hopes to put the first woman or person of colour on the moon by 2025.

Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator and Manager at NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) unit, said, “Next week we should expect to launch the first flight of Artemis.”

First woman of colour to land on the Moon 

“It won’t be until 2025 where we are going to send the third Artemis and the third Artemis will land astronauts on the moon, and… the first person to land on the moon (this time) is going to be a woman of colour,” Younes told British news agency Reuters.

He further said at a signing ceremony in the tiny village of Matjiesfontein, 237 km (147 miles) north of Cape Town. “This is going to be one of three stations supporting the communication with all of our astronauts in and around the moon and providing viable services to our entire Moon to Mars programme.” 

African space ground station to have range of antennae

Mathiesfontein, one of the three primary sites being developed globally, will join the network of other ground stations in the United States and Australia. The station will be designed with a range of antennae, with a three-storey, 20 metre (22 yard) diameter dish being received from NASA. With such features, the station will enhance coverage and curb the overabundance of crucial mission support to the moon, Mars and even farther, according to officials. 

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) will take full responsibility of the station facility including its establishment, operation and maintenance. 

The remote site is strategic from the point of view of its geographic location. The site has clear skies and low radio interference. It is also located close to key communication and transport infrastructure. As part of the government’s investment in developing its space infrastructure and research base, South Africa has pledged an initial 70 million rand ($3.93 million) to establish the infrastructure and communications required to prepare the location.

Phil Mjwara, director general at South Africa’s department of science and innovation, said, “NASA would not come to South Africa if they didn’t feel that we have capacities to do the work in partnership with them.”

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