India likely contender to launch South African satellite

February 26th, 2008 - 11:20 pm ICT by admin  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Feb 26 (IANS) India could be in the running to launch South Africa’s civilian satellite Sumbandila again after reported dissatisfaction here with repeated delays by Russia, which beat India in the bidding the first time round. But India might also have to fight off China this time, as its neighbour is believed to have expressed a keen interest to do so if Russia-South Africa discussions on the issue fail.

The South African science and technology ministry is “so fed up with Russia’s refusal” to launch the country’s 26 million rand satellite that it could turn to launch partners from India or China, the daily Business Report said here.

The delays by Russia have been attributed to that country’s reported unhappiness at South Africa’s refusal to use a Russian satellite, possibly for military purposes.

But industry sources said this was a military space project that had no relation to the civilian satellite, which aims to give South Africa a technological capability to play a role in global space initiatives.

Although neither the defence ministry here nor Russian diplomats would comment on the matter, Nhlanhla Nyide, chief director of communications at the science and technology ministry, told Business Report that Russia’s latest failure to launch the satellite without reasons was a clear indication that it might not be able to do so in the future.

The Sumbandila launch was initially to have taken place in December 2006 from a submarine near the northern Russian naval base of Murmansk.

There was another postponement in July last year, when the Russians claimed that the seas would be too rough and the skies too dark in the winter.

“So the Russians asked us to move the launch to December because the weather conditions would be more favourable during that time,” Nyide said.

“But when this failed and we could not get a clear answer from them, we knew we had to start negotiations with other launch partners.”

This statement has prompted industry speculation that India might now get a second shot at helping South Africa launch the missile, because it had initially been in the running to become the launch partner but lost out to the Russians.

Sun Space, the company that constructed the South African satellite, was also concerned that the repeated Russian delays were hampering South Africa’s efforts to start up its own space programme.

“The latest postponement means that our track record in space is going to be delayed or sidetracked once more,” said Sun Space CEO Bart Cilliers.

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