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Africa’s growing science capacity: Developing Africa's Science Networks

Developing science capacity in Africa will grant an unprecedented opportunity to nurture a foundation of educational initiatives for students and opportunities for business development in high-calibre information sectors. In turn, this will provide space for more diverse economic activity and encourage greater foreign direct investment in regional initiatives.

This dynamic has the potential to invigorate the region and the scientific renaissance that is already underway. Consequently, it can attract the best scientists and engineers to work in Africa. This can provide unrivalled opportunities for specialists from African countries to engage with transformational science and cutting edge instrumentation. This will include collaboration in joint projects with the most renowned universities and research institutions in the world.

Southern Africa, in particular, is emerging as a hub of ground-based space science and now hosts some of the largest facilities for ground-based astronomy in the southern hemisphere. In 2005, the 10-metre diameter Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) was commissioned. This is currently the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. It was built by South Africa and partners in Germany, New Zealand, Poland, the UK, and USA. India has subsequently joined the consortium.

Developing Africa's Science Networks

Southern Africa has a strong tradition of quality science facilities and networks. The South Africa Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) has been a leading force in optical astronomy for almost 200 years. The SAAO operates several telescopes, including the Southern African Large Telescope. South Africa's Hartbeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) has operated since the early 1970s and plays a key role in global science networks. This tradition is now being added to, reflecting the broader science renaissance now happening in Africa.

The first astronomical society encompassing all of Africa was formally launched at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Cape Town in April of this year. The aims of the "African Astronomical Society" (AfAS) are to organise and connect a community of astronomers and to develop resources for astronomy and astrophysics in Africa. AfAS will promote astronomy as a tool of socioeconomic development in Africa and plans to further the study of mathematics and physics at a school level to encourage the pursuit of careers in astronomy. This follows the creation of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). The agency fosters cooperation in space-related activities and research in space science, seeks to advance scientific engineering through human capital, and supports the creation of an environment conducive to the industrial development of space technologies within the framework of national government.

SANSA will have a first chance to introduce itself to the global space community when South Africa hosts the International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town, from 3 to 7 October 2011. The IAC is the most important event for the scientific and industrial community in the field, and will be an important opportunity for South Africa to showcase its scientific, institutional and industrial capabilities to the world. As this will be the first International Astronautical Congress on the African Continent, IAC 2011 will be a historic milestone in the development of the African space arena.