SANSA, the South African National Space Agency, breaks ground for their Lunar Exploration Ground Sites antenna.
SANSA, the South African National Space Agency, undertook aground-breaking ceremony at the future site of a new Lunar Exploration Ground Sites (LEGS) antenna in Matjiesfontein in the Western Cape, recently. The ceremony was attended by SANSA officials and NASA Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program Deputy Associate Administrator and Programme Manager Badri Younes.
Connecting with Artemis
Located about 240 km north-east of Cape Town, Matjiesfontein will be one of three 18 m to 24 m LEGS communications antennas strategically placed around the globe to ensure near-continuous connectivity between Earth and astronauts aboard NASA’s Artemis spacecraft, as well as spacecraft in orbit around the Moon.
The ground-breaking ceremony was preceded by the signing of a Joint Statement of Intent between NASA and the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to formalise their space exploration partnership.
“Location, weather and existing infrastructure make Matjiesfontein an ideal place to build an antenna,” said Younes. The Matjiesfontein ground station will alleviate increased demand for NASA’s Deep Space Network services by providing critical enabling communications support to most elements of Artemis on and around the Moon.
SANSA and Apollo
South Africa was home to a ground-tracking station outside Johannesburg at Hartebeesthoek that played a role in NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s. Artemis, named for Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, includes missions to land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon, paving the way for long-term lunar exploration and serving as a steppingstone to send astronauts to Mars.
“We see this partnership as mutually beneficial,” said Dr. Phil Mjwara, DSI Director General. “It allows us to expand our scientific knowledge of key challenges to astronaut health and safety such as space radiation, altered gravity fields, isolation and confinement and closed environments.”
Matjiesfontein will join future LEGS facilities at NASA’s White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico and a still-to-be-determined location in Australia. With LEGS stations in North America, South Africa, and Australia, the Moon will always be in Earth’s view to ensure essential, enhanced direct-to-Earth communications capabilities through NASA’s Near Space Network.
“A significant milestone”
“We are pleased that this project has reached a significant milestone with the support of the DSI, as well as the partnership of NASA,” said Tiaan Strydom, SANSA Acting Commercial Services Executive. The Matjiesfontien ground station extends SANSA space capabilities and specialisation, taking the agency a notch higher as a global player in space science and technology.