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[IGSMAIL-3092]: Proposal for Geodetic Institute of Africa at HartRAO (fwd)
IGS Electronic Mail 07 Nov 00:39:49 PST 2000 Message Number 3092
Author: Ludwig Combrinck
Although this mail has been sent out on a closed list, I have been
asked to mail it on the IGS mail exploder. If you receive it twice,
delete one copy.....
Proposal for the Establishment of Geodetic Institute at HartRAO
Dear Geodetic Community,
The following letter is forwarded to you as I seek support for the
establishment of a Geodetic Institute at the Hartebeesthoek Radio
Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO). After recent discussions with our
director (Dr George Nicolson) and the President of the National Research
Foundation (Dr Khotso Mokhele) I have been given the go ahead to draw up a
proposal for a Geodetic Institute. The success of the proposal will depend
to a large degree on the support that I can muster from the international
geodetic community. The establishment of such an institute with own
executive powers, driven by the requirements of science as viewed by the
major role players in geodesy, would be able to inject life into African
and global geodesy. The Geodetic Institute, with its international
partners, will have the potential to solve permanently the many problems
that have been encountered by the geodetic community over the years in
Africa. Now is the time for you to speak and add your voice to the
The HartRAO Space Geodesy Programme currently consists of three projects,
each project supporting a specific space geodesy technique (VLBI, SLR and
GPS). The collocation of the three techniques not only positions HartRAO to
make a major and lasting impact on geodesy internationally, but opens new
frontiers for Africa. Geodesy on the African continent has been lacking
focus, drive and participation. It lags behind the rest of the world, while
the continent in itself harbours exciting new research.
The purpose of the Geodetic Institute for Africa at HartRAO will be to take
Africa into the future by developing and nurturing country specific projects
in space geodesy. These projects will be tied in a unifying structure which
will advance and support Africa's role in geodesy. It will awaken the
African giant in this discipline, enabling participation, collaboration
between and development of many different sectors of the peoples of Africa.
Africa Requires a Unifying Structure
Geodesy is a multidisciplinary subject with complex problems. It encompasses
the worlds of plate tectonics and earthquakes, long and short baseline
measurements, large scale and small scale problems. It utilises different
techniques which are constantly being developed and improved. It impacts on
every indivual in one way or another, whether it be through technology,
investment or respect that a country earns. Scientific achievements
translates into respect from the world. Respect in turn culminates in
investments which bring upliftment and real improvement into the life of the
Despite this extensive global intellectual activity, a formal structure does
not exist which will allow Africa to participate and deliver to the world
the richness of its own dreams. The capabilities of its own researchers to
exchange ideas, initiate collaborative research and compete collectively for
external sources of funding are being hampered due to a lack of focus and
coordination. No unifying body exists.
Furthermore, there is no existing structure that encourages graduate and
undergraduate students to pursue careers in Space Geodesy or related
subjects (numerical modelling, geophysics, software development, geology,
space sciences etc.). Surveying departments at South African universities
have been closed down or have been absorbed into other departments. The
multifaceted opportunities offered by GPS alone is virtually untapped in
Africa. Where are the Africa built GPS receiver and application
innovations ? For what and who are we waiting ?
The establishment of the Institute of Geodesy for Africa at HartRAO would be
a first step towards addressing these important issues.
What is the Purpose of the Institute ?
Within the defined area of geodesy and its related components, the purpose of
the Institute would be to:
(1) focus, sustain and develop research and teaching in Africa
(2) act as a unifying and representative body for Africa
(3) act as facillitator for the establishment of a common geodetic reference
system throughout Africa compatible with the International Terrestrial
Reference System (ITRF)
(4) intensify and support densification of the ITRF using GPS in Africa
(5) establish and maintain the African Reference Frame (AFREF)
(6) act as regional data centre and analysis centre for Africa
(7) identify, support and develop geodetic activities in Africa
(8) support and develop the objectives of the IGS, IVS and ILRS
(9) collaborate with and support the other international role players
in geodesy, geodynamics and related subjects, such as the IAG and IERS
(10) develop inhouse training facilities for undergraduate and
postgradute students with emphasis on equity and redress
(11) revitalise and support academic centre activities through
student recruitment and scholarships
(12) distribute and manage travel/research funds for worthy projects
(13) position HartRAO/NRF as a major role player in new
developments, research, teaching and the African Renaissance, specifically
within the SADC countries, but also in Africa.
Why Locate the Institute at HartRAO ?
The current Geodesy Programme has a broad interdisciplinary vision and
recognises that solutions to complex problems are only achievable through
bringing together international role players and individuals with differing
but complementary support structures and skills. We have been able, on a
small scale, to establish working relationships with different groups,
locally and internationally. On the GPS front alone, we have strong
collaborative links with JPL, CNES, CNRS and NOAA, to mention but a few.
NASA's GSFC has been an active and supportive partner for a long time. This
has brought forth worthwhile returns in equipment, software and support in
different forms, which in turn are benefitting global science. HartRAO has
been recognised by the international community for its involvement,
commitment, active role and positive approach towards developing and
supporting Space Geodesy. HartRAO is a household name in the Space Geodetic
community. We are the hub of Space Geodesy activities in Africa and is the
logical choice to set the wheel rolling.
Would it Divide HartRAO ?
Two basic divisions exist at HartRAO; astronomy and geodesy. Both sciences
utilise radio astronomy. Most of the VLBI equipment required, including the
radio telescope and peripheral equipment are used by both divisions. Geodesy
uses additional techniques such as SLR and GPS, which consist of separate
instrumentation, but even there sharing takes place, for instance the GPS
receiver uses the same clock reference (Hydrogen Maser) required for both
geodetic VLBI and astronomical VLBI. Improvements (such as the surface
upgrade) benefits geodesy and astronomy. Establishing of the institute would
therefore not mean a separation, or declaration of independence. In fact it
would mean growth, from 'National Facility' to 'International Facility'.
That is why it is suggested to name the institute 'The Geodetic Institute of
Africa at HartRAO'. No physical division would be practical, but a
considerable number of physical additions would be required, which would
benefit astronomy as well.
How Would it Affect Current Administration at HartRAO ?
Special features of the institute would include a defined administrative
framework. Funding for instance, would require to be governed and
administered in such a way as to protect all the members of the Institute.
Participants in the Institute and its activities would be members. Most or
all of these members would have some level of formal Memorandum of Agreement
with the Institute. The Institute would make use of the existing
administrative system, but would require additions and enhancements. For
instance, we should house the 'African Library for Geodesy', which will
allow us to provide an important information service to other African
countries. Substantial effort should be put into making the library an
Institute Management ?
The Institute would include a representative governing (Advisory Board) body
with executive powers, made up of elected members (major role players from
IAG, IERS, JPL etc). It is suggested that HartRAO has a dual management
structure, recognising the structural and functional differences in the two
divisions. A dual directorship is proposed, so that both astronomy and
geodesy are 'internal users' of the facility. An equal number of senior
staff from the institute and the astronomy division would form an executive
management to enable management of matters affecting HartRAO as a whole.
Geodesy should not govern astronomy, or vice versa, maximum growth and
sustainability would be possible by 'directed' directorship.
Links to Other Formal Bodies
As co-chair of the sub-commision 'Africa' of Commission XIV of the IAG (the
commission on crustal dynamics) and as member of the Commission XIV Bureau,
it would be appropriate to work through the various commisions applicable.
I recognise the importance of the structures supporting geodynamics and
geodesy which are in place and am sure that the leaders of these commissions
will be able to play an important role in the establishment and objectives
of the Institute.
Minutes of a meeting to discuss AFREF (April 27, 2000) called by Claude
Boucher, head of Commission X of the International Association of Geodesy
(IAG) "Global and Regional Networks", also head of the ITRF and the
representative of the International Earth Rotation Service (IERS) to the
International GPS Service (IGS) indicates some of the requirements and
problems of Geodesy in Africa. The Institute would actively work on the many
items raised during this meeting and specifically requires 'personal
attention' from Claude Boucher.
We would be very pro-active in pushing the objectives of the IGS. The IGS is
active globally in supporting the mission of the IAG & IERS/ITRF through
the techniques and applications of the Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS
is currently the only practical way to bring modern geodesy to Africa and
can be used for realizing a continental reference network throughout Africa,
this should be one of the prime responsibilities of the Institute.
HartRAO has been succesful in this to some degree, having installed four GPS
stations to date (HRAO, SUTH, RBAY, NAMI). Three more are in various stages
of construction, to be located in Madagascar, Zambia and a collocated (tide
gauge) installation at Simonstown. All of these are planned to be IGS
The establishment of a Geodetic Institute for Africa at HartRAO will
position the international geodetic community to actively participate in
real solutions to solve the lack of equipment, weak support and related
problems concerning geodesy in Africa.
Although not very detailed, this document has been drawn up to elicit
response from the various role players in Geodesy. After several years of
presenting talks at different venues about densification of the ITRF in
Africa, informing other agencies abroad about my intention to form a
Geodetic Institute, we have now reached the stage where words can be turned
to action. I would be very pleased to receive responses from the global
geodetic community. In particular, from those who have similar objectives
for Africa and have recognised the requirements for active growth in geodesy
from within the continent. The succesful establishment of the Institute will
require real support from the international geodetic community, this I
depend on. In turn, the international geodetic community will pick the
fruits of their labour and support, as they see IGS stations and working
groups sprout up over the continent. Please forward this letter to anyone
else you think should receive it.
Please forward your comments, letters of support, descriptions of where
you see yourself or your agency contributing, whatever you feel will make
a contribution to the proposal to me via e-mail. I would like to include
as much input as possible from the international geodetic community in the
formal proposal to the NRF. I would like to have the proposal ready within
Regards and awaiting your favourable replies,
HartRAO Space Geodesy Programme
PO BOX 443
e-mail: ludwig @ ludwig.hartrao.ac.za
: ludwig @ bootes.hartrao.ac.za
Tel: +27 12 326-0742
Fax: +27 12 326-0756
IGS Regional Data Center for Africa