Could BRICS take South Africa to space?

  • BRICS nations met in May to agree on a number of policies that will see member states cooperate in ongoing and future space initiatives.
  • This includes future missions to space.
  • South Africa said it was keen on joining a BRICS Space Council, proposed by Russia.

BRICS member states, including South Africa, have been meeting in Russia for a number of summits in the last few months, with an unexpected summit being a Joint Committee on Space Cooperation.

In May, the heads of space agencies from South Africa, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met for a summit in Moscow.

Delegates met to deliberate on how BRICS nations can cooperate in their respective space programmes “as well as updates on ongoing and future space initiatives,” the South African space agency SANSA describes.

At the end of the meeting in May, the BRICS space agencies decided on a draft statement, one deliberated on by the heads of each of the representative space agencies. It set out that space weapons and their use should be banned.

The most infamous theoretical space weapon is kinetic bombardment, where essentially a giant piece of metal is dropped from a satellite and gravity potentially turns it into a bigger bomb than most existing nukes.

But aside from this, the agencies also decided to “avoid the jeopardising of the space environment” and importantly, focus on “the support for BRICS nations space missions.” Only three BRICS nations so far have had active space missions, namely Russia, China and India.

India saw great success in August last year when it became the fourth nation ever to successfully land a man-made vehicle on the surface of the Moon. The country is now eyeing a manned mission in 2040.

Meanwhile, for South Africa, the extent of its space initiatives and exploration are currently all earth-bound but include the usage of some of the largest and most advanced cosmic telescopes on the planet.

South Africa is now hoping to join a BRICS Space Council, that Russia has proposed to create.

South Africa meets with BRICS delegates from China at the Joint Committee on Space Cooperation, Moscow, Russia, May 2024. Image sourced from SANSA.

“We see the Russian proposal to create a BRICS space council. We will develop our cooperation in this direction; South Africa supports this initiative,” Humbulani Mudau, SANSA CEO stated. Russia and South Africa are currently partners on the PanEOS project, which tracks space debris.

In the short term, however, South Africa used the summit in May to sign memorandums with the Space Science and Geospatial Insitute of Ethiopia and the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences for further cooperation in space and tech projects.

“This collaborative approach to space activities, where all member countries contribute their unique perspectives, resources, and expertise, is a key strength of the BRICS space cooperation and a testament to the shared commitment to advancing space science and technology for the benefit of all,” writes SANSA.

While space missions for South Africa are still far off, and likely won’t happen unless the government injects enormous amounts of money behind SANSA, the establishment of a council for cooperation could see more resources invested in local space initiatives, or perhaps South Africa lending its expertise in space missions of other BRICS members.

[Image – Photo by NASA on Unsplash]


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