Johannesburg, Jun 2 (PTI) South Africa has partnered with NASA to host a deep-space ground station, which will support human spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With this collaboration, South Africa became the fourth country after the US, Spain and Australia to host a deep space ground station.

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The partnership between the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to host the space station followed an earlier agreement between the two organisations for the establishment of the station at Matjiesfontein town in the Western Cape Province.

"The station will support human spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. It will be integrated into an existing network of three sites in the United States of America, Spain and Australia," the South African government said in a statement on Monday.

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"As the fourth site, it will complement the other three sites and provide improved coverage and redundancy for critical mission support. SANSA will operate, maintain and manage the station," it said.

The station will benefit South Africa in, amongst others, the development of scarce skills and the growth of the science, engineering, technology and innovation sector. It will also provide opportunities to feed the knowledge economy and increase the national research output in space science and technology.

SANSA Managing Director Raoul Hodges said South Africa's advantage was its location at the southern tip of Africa, with the climate at Matjiesfontein being ideal for the frequency that will be involved in the space studies.

Work is expected to start soon on building the dish antennas, with a height equivalent to a 20-storey building.

"The dishes need to be large enough to capture the faint signals sent from millions or even billions of miles away (from earth)," the NASA said in a statement.

The partnership between SANSA and NASA comes almost half a century after a tracking station was built by NASA at Hartbeestfontein in South Africa in 1961 to track NASA probes that were being sent beyond the earth's orbit.

The facility was converted to a radio astronomy observatory after the original venture ended in 1974 when NASA quit South Africa because of the growing international opposition to the white-minority apartheid government.

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