SANSA provides first specialised Space Weather Forecasting course in the world

From left is Boitumelo Makobe Nkosinathi Masango Katekile Shivambo and Nondumiso Khumalo


SANSA has developed a space weather forecasting curriculum to train the future generation of space weather forecasters. There are currently four South African forecasters undergoing this specialised training course, one of whom holds a BSc Honours degree in Physics with a focus on Astrophysics. The other three forecasters hold BSc Honours degrees in Meteorology, with a focus on operational weather forecasting.

The duration of the training is 6 to 12 months and includes the fundamentals of space weather, space weather data, modelling and forecasting. The future forecasters will also enjoy exposure to international training and knowledge exchange from other Space Weather centres outside South Africa. The course also includes the development of skills such as media training, presentation and report writing, among others.

SANSA is not a higher education institution that offers degrees; therefore it cannot issue certificates of qualified space weather forecasters. However, SANSA is a globally recognised institution within the space weather community and is a member of the International Space Environmental Services (ISES).

“What makes this course unique is that there is no higher education institute anywhere in the world where you can register to do a course on space weather forecasting. The space physics knowledge and skills we acquire on the job at SANSA, as well as engagements with other international experts in the field ensured that we could develop a space weather forecasting training curriculum that is used to train the future generation of space weather forecasters. That is remarkable,” said Dr Mpho Tshisaphungo, Space Weather Practitioner at SANSA.


What is “Space Weather”?

Space Weather refers to conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems.

Space weather results from the behaviour of the Sun, the nature of Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, and our location in the solar system.

Space weather forecasts provide crucial information for anyone who might be impacted by space weather: airline pilots, astronauts, power utility engineers, mineral exploration geophysicists and even tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. It is important to note that while space weather event occurrence is usually of the “low probability-high impact” scenario, research has shown that continuing degradation as a result of a number of smaller impacts is often where the vulnerability lies.

“Space weather events are a global phenomenon with regional impact, so it is important for South Africa, as a country with a developing dependence on technology, to understand the risks associated with these events and develop a degree of preparedness. Being able to forecast space weather to some extent allows the country to put measures in place and mitigate the risk associated with space weather,” said Mpho.

Jacques Kichenbrand