Since the advent of the space age in 1957, South Africa established a reputation for accuracy and reliability in the international space community. Today, SANSA is using the benefits of space science and technology to help grow and develop the African region.

Stationed at the Hartebeesthoek ground station with its excellent infrastructure and cutting-edge communications, the exceptionally skilled operations team at SANSA Space Operations specialise in all aspects of space mission support, satellite operations, ground segment construction and hosting.

The journey started in 1960 when Hartebeesthoek became one of NASA's 14 similar Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN) stations established around the globe. Since 1984, the Hartebeesthoek team has supported more than 300 successful launches.

We look forward to continuing the tradition for the next 50 years and beyond.

How did Hartebeesthoek come about? - a brief historic timeline

The accumulation of TT&C expertise within SANSA Space Operations (previously known as the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre) started when NASA created a presence in South Africa shortly after the launch of Sputnik 1 - the first satellite launched into space by the Russians on 14 October 1957. Since then, TT&C support has been provided on a continuous basis for polar orbiting and geostationary satellites to space agencies and aerospace companies around the globe, including the French Space Agency (CNES), Boeing, Hughes, Intelsat and many others.

The ground station at Hartebeesthoek was established in 1960 as one of NASA's 14 similar Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN) stations used to track and receive data from Earth-orbiting satellites. Scattered in the Americas, Great Britain, Australia and South Africa, these stations also received and recorded telemetry and sent various commands to dozens of scientific satellites placed into various orbits around the earth.

Due to its favourable location at the bottom tip of Africa (latitude 25º 53' south, longitude 27º 42' east), the Joburg STADAN received a large percentage of these data. In fact, for a brief period of two months in the early 1970s, the station received 40 percent of all data from more than a dozen satellites.

Other key functions at the time, all scheduled for the STADAN stations by NASA, included confirming that a satellite had been placed into orbit successfully and initiating or monitoring the deployment of experiment booms on the solar panels of the satellites.

In 1963, unscheduled by NASA, Joburg STADAN recorded the telemetry data of the Syncom 1 launch. Soon after the recording was made, all transmissions from Syncom 1 ceased abruptly and the data recorded by Hartebeesthoek were the only available of that critical period when the apogee rocket is fired to place the satellite into a geostationary orbit. The unscheduled recording enabled NASA to rapidly and with certainty determine the cause of the failure and to launch Syncom 2 on schedule.

Today, the geostationary orbit around the Earth is populated with literally hundreds of communications satellites that enable us to watch important news and sporting events anywhere in the world, as they occur.

In 1975, NASA ceased all operations at the Joburg STADAN station due to political instability in the country. During the last three years before its closure, more than 99.8% of all tracking assignments at Hartebeesthoek were successfully completed, occasionally in excess of 3 000 per month. 

In 1976 after NASA had left, the CSIR established the Satellite Remote Sensing Centre (SRSC) at Hartebeesthoek with a small group of people from the Joburg STADAN station and the equipment abandoned by the American space agency. Two years later in 1978, the SRSC received the first images from the European METEOSAT meteorological satellite.This was followed by high resolution, multi-spectral images from the NASA LANDSAT series Earth- resources satellites.

In 1980, the functions of the French National Space Agency (CNES) tracking station at Hammanskraal outside Pretoria were relocated to Hartebeesthoek and integrated with those of the SRSC. As a result, CNES has received launch and orbital support for all its space missions within coverage by Hartebeesthoek - services similar to those provided to NASA until 1975.

In the late 1980s the antennas at Hartebeesthoek were upgraded to receive very high resolution images from NASA's Landsat and the French SPOT satellites (high-resolution, optical imaging Earth observation satellites operating from space) as well as the French Earth-resources satellite. These satellites all provide images suitable for cartography at a scale of  1:50 000. These maps are used for photographical products.

During 1989, the Hartebeesthoek SRSC became the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) in a CSIR-wide re-organisation and in December 2010, SAC became part of South Africa's newly national space agency, SANSA, as its Space Operations Directorate.

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