A ‘light year’ is the distance light can travel in one year. Because light travels at 1080 million kilometres per hour,1 this is quite a far way – over 9 trillion kilometres, actually. Apparently, light takes 8.3 minutes to reach earth from the sun and it will take 46.5 billion years for light leaving earth to reach the edge of the observable universe.2 So space is quite a big place.

Anyway, back home we have a statute to govern space affairs, and it is called exactly that: the Space Affairs Act 1993. It is not intended to govern all outer space, but rather what us South Africans can and cannot do in regard to space.

With all that astronautical playground, perhaps the statute does not need to get too technical about distances. That said, quite a few activities are proscribed in relation to ‘outer space’, but the definition of what this is,3 is unclear:

the space above the surface of the earth from a height at which it is in practice possible to operate an object in an orbit around the earth.

The problem with this (if the debate amongst some seeming cogniscenti is anything to go by4) is that you can do this just above the ground, and the only thing that will affect the orbit is the buildings and trees in your way.

Anyway, the Space Affairs Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition. The Act established the South African Council for Space Affairs and it is the Council which effectively5 administers the Act.

A. Launching

This means6 the placing (or attempted placing) of any spacecraft7 into a suborbital trajectory,8 or into outer space, or the testing of a launch vehicle,9 or of a spacecraft in which it is foreseen that the launch vehicle will lift from the earth’s surface.

  1. Whatever that might mean, you need a licence, issued by the Council, before you can do certain activities. So, without a licence, it is an offence to:
    • do any launching from the territory of the Republic;10
    • do any launching from the territory of another state on behalf of a South African company;11
    • operate any launch facility;12
    • participate, as a South African company, in activities directly contributing to the launching of spacecraft and the operation of such craft in outer space (i.e. ‘space activities’) which entail obligations to the State in terms of any intentional conventions or treaties, or which may affect national interests;13
    • perform any other space or space-related activities as prescribed by the Minister.14 15
  2. The licence that is issued by the Council may have conditions attached. It is a criminal offence not to comply with any condition of a licence.16

  3. If you fail to furnish the Council with any relevant information concerning its licensing, or you misrepresent or give false information, you commit a criminal offence.17

B. Boards of Inquiry

The object of the Council is to implement the space policy of the Republic,18 which is determined by the Minister.19 The Council can advise the Minister regarding, for example, the holding of an inquiry into accidents, incidents or potential emergencies.20 (The Minister can also hold an inquiry where there is an appeal by any person against a decision of the Council.)

  1. Any person who, after being subpoenaed to appear at an inquiry, without lawful excuse fails to appear commits an offence.21

  2. It is also an offence, without lawful excuse, to refuse to be sworn in or to make an affirmation, or to produce any book, document, data or thing which you have been required to produce, or to answer any question lawfully put to you.22

C. Inspectors

The Council can appoint inspectors, from time to time, to ensure that the Act is complied with. These inspectors can conduct investigations and inspections as considered necessary. Any person who hinders or obstructs the carrying out of an inspection or investigation commits a crime.23

D. General: Confidential Information

There is a general provision to the effect that ‘any person contravening or failing to comply with any other provision of this Act shall be guilty of an offence…’24 However, there is not much in the Act to which this could relate, except for the following.

  1. The disclosure of any information obtained by anyone in the performance of functions under the Act is (unless lawfully compelled or authorized) forbidden,25 and a contravention of this would therefore be a crime.
  1. Or, rather more accurately, 299 297 458 metres per second. 

  2. Wikipedia – ‘Speed of Light’; ‘Light Year’

  3. See the definition of ‘outer space’ in Section 1 of the Act. 

  4. See, for example: – ‘What is the lowest possible stable earth orbit?’ 

  5. This is a relative term, because – as is seen – some of the definitions lead into quagmire. 

  6. See the definition in Section 1 of the Act. Good luck with its interpretation. 

  7. Which, in turn, means any object launched with the purpose of being put and operated in outer space. 

  8. The trajectory of any object which leaves the surface of the earth due to a launch, but returns to the surface of the earth without completing an orbit. See Section 1 of the Act. 

  9. Which is a device manufactured or adapted to launch a spacecraft – Ibid

  10. Section 11(1)a read with Section 23(1)a. 

  11. Section 11(1)b read with Section 23(1)a. 

  12. Section 11(1)c read with Section 23(1)a. 

  13. Section 11(1)d read with Section 23(1)a. 

  14. None have yet been prescribed. 

  15. Section 11(1)e read with Section 23(1)a. 

  16. Section 23(1)b. 

  17. Section 23(1)c. 

  18. Section 5(1) of the Act. 

  19. Section 2(1) of the Act. 

  20. Section 15 of the Act. 

  21. Section 23(2)a. 

  22. Section 23(2b. 

  23. Section 23(3). 

  24. Section 23(4). 

  25. Section 19 of the Act.