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Scientist soars after career change

Marié Botha believes she is impacting South Africa’s economy and tackling social issues with her career. (Images: Supplied)

Marié Botha is one of just a handful South Africans who has met Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. It was a meeting that might not have happened if she had not decided to change her career field when she was at university.

In her first semester in her first year, Botha recalls, she made a life-changing decision to turn to science. Looking back years later, she is grateful that she is a professional in this industry, because she believes she is making a difference to South Africa’s growth and development.

Botha, who grew up in Pretoria, is a researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisation in Africa. “The CSIR is committed to supporting innovation in South Africa to improve national competitiveness in the global economy,” it explains.

She was studying business commerce at the University of Stellenbosch, which she enjoyed, Botha says, when she was bitten by the science bug. “During my first year the realisation dawned on me of how much more the science field could offer, and how you could develop your own personal interest to really impact on the South African economy and its society.”


In 2006, Botha completed her Bachelor of Commerce honours in logistics management; she went on to receive her Masters of Science in the field in 2008. “I graduated in 2006, started work in 2007. I did my Masters in my first year of work,” she says.

“I got this incredible opportunity to start my career at the CSIR, as well as further my studies. This I have to attribute to my parents, who took the time to expose me to the absolutely incredible organisation that the CSIR is.”

Botha started her career at the organisation as a researcher in the field of operations research, logistics and quantitative methods. From there, she moved to supply chain management, lean manufacturing and the aerospace industry.

The 32-year-old explains that the decision to change career fields also had to do with the science field being stimulating and unpredictable. “It also afforded me the opportunity to further my academic qualification and my career development on a continuous basis.”

Botha got involved in managing the supplier development programme for the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI). The main focus of the initiative is enabling and co-ordinating industry to be integrated into global supply chains.

She has authored numerous scientific papers and developed strategies for the aerospace and non-aerospace industries. In addition, Botha is a member of the International Astronautical Federation’s Workforce Development for Young Professionals Committee and the Royal Aeronautical Society. She also serves on the council for the Aeronautical Society of South Africa.

As the manager of the aerospace and composites initiatives, Botha runs a small and highly effective team of what she calls “a dedicated technical and administrative staff with support from other functions within the CSIR”.

“My main responsibilities are to manage the Department of Trade and Industry’s Aerospace Industry Support Initiative, as well as the Department of Science and Technology’s composites initiatives,” she explains.

“I am also the key account manager for CSIR aerospace, which requires me to co-ordinate the internal CSIR aerospace functions.” With this profile she liaises with local and international aerospace organisations and companies.

“International colleagues are intrigued by our history, our journey and our people, and in my field of work, how we managed to achieve the technological excellence we have.”


Botha says the South African industry has a strong history based on excellence through products such as the Rooivalk helicopter, the Seeker unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and the SumbandilaSat.

Work in the industry in South African currently ranges from research and development institutions and manufacturers that supply directly to Airbus’s A350 and A400M programmes, among others, to a large defence industry as well as a network of small medium and micro enterprises supplying these organisations.

“The main benefit of the industry to address the societal needs of South Africa is assisting with safety and security. This is obtained through the obvious defence applications, but also through additional not-as-evident cases such as UAVs safeguarding our borders, or even assisting with [curbing] rhino poaching.

“The aerospace sector also assists with food security through crop management by satellite remote sensing, utilising satellite data to monitor natural fires, and developing an early warning system to assist with preventing and fighting these fires.”

Aerospace is a key element in the government’s industrialisation strategy, she explains. “As such, our work contributes to the Department of Trade and Industry’s Industrial Policy Action Plan. This focuses on key areas to boost the country’s industrialisation capacity and participating economic base.”

And one job created in an advanced manufacturing industry creates multiple additional jobs, she adds. “In doing so, a major societal benefit to South Africans is indirectly addressed.”

Marié Botha says it was such an honour to meet Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.


Botha is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. In 2014, she received the Collaboration Award and in 2012, she was received the Outstanding Contribution by a Team Award. She also received the Promising Young Researcher Award in 2008.

Golden Key is the world’s largest honour society, connecting high-achieving individuals globally. The society focuses on academic excellence, leadership development and community service.

About her meeting with Aldrin, Botha says it was an incredible experience. “It was a humbling experience meeting and talking to such a science icon, discussing South Africa, and its impact and future growth. I now have the photo of a lifetime.”

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Three new SA inventions ready for takeoff

The DTI’s Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) proved its importance to the South African aerospace industry recently, with the emergence of three highly innovative local aerospace technologies with great promise for successful commercialisation.

Managed and hosted by the CSIR, the AISI has an ambitious mandate to position the country as a global leader in niche areas of industry.

The technology-based SMMEs in question include a company that is the first in South Africa to be able to provide radiation screening and mitigation services for satellite components; a company that employs a unique stellar gyroscope to function as a reliable attitude control system for nano-satellites; and a company that has developed a micro gas turbine engine that has the potential to be used in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Satellite component testing

Radiation effects on satellite electronic components have proven to be a major problem that affects the longevity of satellites in the space environment. The electronic components are required to undergo radiation screening before final installation on satellites. Previously, no facility in South Africa was able to perform this function and private and local satellite manufacturers had to have the satellite components screened by an international organisation.

Heliocentric Technologies ZA is the first domestic company to be able to provide radiation screening and mitigation services for satellite components. Their robust, reliable screening instruments and processes, which accurately simulate prolonged exposure to radiation, was developed over 18 months and utilises the facilities at iThemba LABS in Cape Town. With development now completed, the company has started to market its services.

The company maintains a range of common components in stock, for fast delivery to customers, tested for both TID (total ionising dose) and SEE (single event effects). Components include FPGAs, microcontrollers and microprocessors, data storage and memory, and power FETs. With the ability to provide high-energy protons up to 200 MeV for SEE testing, the test facility is able to perform batch testing of components, board-level testing and satellite-level testing of nano-satellites only.

Gyro for orbit control

Satellites use different systems for orbit and attitude control. These control systems ensure the intended orbit of the satellite is followed and calculate the necessary adjustments, should they drift out of orbit. Some of these control systems make use of the sun or other light sources to measure the position of the sun or light sources relative to the satellite’s position. Depending on this position, the satellite makes the necessary adjustments to retain its original orbit. Other types of attitude control systems have their own drawbacks and are often very complex and expensive, especially when being considered for use in nano-satellites.

NewSpace Systems has developed a novel attitude control system for low-cost, small and nano-satellites. The stellar gyroscope is an innovative solution to solve the problem of drift in traditional gyroscopes. The importance of this solution for space avionics is that it solves the problem of accurate attitude knowledge during the period the spacecraft is in eclipse and can no longer orientate itself relative to the sun. It is a key technology for achieving higher performance in smaller spacecraft as it achieves fine pointing accuracy at lower cost, using less spacecraft resources (mass, power, volume) and with high reliability through its robustness to ageing effects such as radiation damage.

NewSpace Systems will design, develop, manufacture, test and qualify a stellar gyro, which will be marketed as an attitude control sensor.

Gas turbines to power UAVs

The lack of a propulsion systems capability in South Africa has been identified as a deficiency in the aerospace industry. The clear market and strategic need for the local industry to develop a propulsion sector, and the past investment in gas turbine technology, present an ideal opportunity to develop a niche sector through support for a single product with potential to expand into a multitude of markets.

In an effort to reignite the local micro gas turbine propulsion market, Cape Aerospace Technologies (CAT) has developed the CAT 200 KS gas turbine engine. The first two phases of the project – which included preliminary design, development, manufacturing and testing – have been successfully completed.

CAT has subsequently moved to phase three of the project, which involves further upgrades to the gas turbine and commercialisation. It has made great technical achievements by getting the first new gas turbine prototype running in South Africa since the late 1980s.

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Satellite authorisation system smooths buying for busy air travellers

South Africa’s new satellite authorisation system is a locally developed satellite payment system that has been successfully demonstrated on South African Airways aircraft. Developed by SatAuth, it makes possible real-time acquisition of debit and credit card transactions during flights.

This unique solution was developed by SatAuth and the installation on selected SAA aircraft was performed by the SAA Technical team with support from the Aerospace industry support initiative (AISI), an initiative of the dti, which is managed and hosted by the CSIR

The business model for commerce on airlines has been constrained by the limitation of the on-board card payment facility which could not authenticate transactions during a flight. The system provides a communications infrastructure which helps the authorisation of financial transaction in real time. This solution decreases credit card fraud as airlines are able to process transaction related to onboard commerce, in real time during the flight.

The SatAuth project required funding for international certification before the installation of the technology in an aircraft. Through the support of the AISI funding, it was possible for the testing and the certification processes to be completed before the final installation of the solution on South African Airways.

Commenting on this development, Marié Botha, Manager: AISI, says, ”This successful project once again demonstrates how effective the dti is as a vehicle for industry development.”

Marié Botha

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A new dawn rises for the South African aerospace industry

A new dawn rises for the South African aerospace industryThe emergence of three highly innovative local aerospace technologies with great promise for successful commercialisation proves that the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) is making a real impact in the South African aerospace industry.

The AISI is an initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), managed and hosted by the CSIR, with an ambitious mandate to position the country as a global leader in niche areas of industry.

“It is important to the dti to be able to show that the funding and support provided by the AISI is making a genuine impact on the industry. We are therefore proud to be able to say that we played a role in helping these three exciting aerospace SMMEs to get off the ground,” says Marié Botha, manager for the AISI. “It also shows us that our criteria for selecting which aerospace efforts to fund and support are in line with sector strategies and international benchmarks.”

The technology-based SMMEs in question include a company that is the first in South Africa to be able to provide radiation screening and mitigation services for satellite components; a company that employs a unique stellar gyroscope to function as a reliable attitude control system for nanosatellites; and a company that has developed a micro gas turbine engine that has the potential to be used in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

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AISI hosts pavilion at AAD 2012

100728_0542-caption to be confirmedTwenty-four small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), three aerospace initiatives funded by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti),  and  eight universities will have the opportunity to exhibit on the pavilion of the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) at the Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo. AISI is fully funded by the dti to support the local South African aeronautical and space industry. It is managed by the CSIR.

Commenting on the forthcoming event, Marié Botha, programme manager of AISI, says, “The dti views AAD 2012 as strategic and an opportunity to expose SMMEs and universities to the broader industry to showcase their capabilities.”

AISI has been a regular exhibitor at AAD since 2006, thereby offering many SMMEs a singular opportunity to showcase their aerospace industry capabilities over the years.  This is in line with AISI’s express commitment to support the South African aerospace industry and promote it in the global market place.

This year AISI has joined forces with the National Aerospace Centre (NAC), a mechanism funded by the dti to support human capital development through bursaries and scholarships as well as focused research and development to underpin the local South African aeronautical and space industries. Eight South African universities from three provinces will be exhibiting on the AISI pavilion.

The Centurion Aerospace Village, an initiative of the dti, will also be present on the AISI pavilion. The CAV aims to develop a high-tech advanced manufacturing, aero-mechanical and defence cluster adjacent to the Waterkloof Air Force base in Centurion, Tshwane. Its primary purpose is to develop a sub-tier supply chain to integrate the local aerospace and defence companies into the global supply chains, thereby becoming suppliers of choice to original equipment manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus, Spirit Aviation and Labinal.

AAD takes place from 19-23 September 2012 at the Airforce Base Waterkloof, Centurion.