Africa ready for the SKA


Africa is ready to host the 3000 to 5000-dish 1.5 billion euro (R160 billion) Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, a meeting of science ministers in Cairo, Egypt, says.

The Department of Science and Technology says meeting of African ministers responsible for science, technology and innovation this Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment and support for the African SKA project.
“Recalling the endorsement of and commitment to the African SKA bid made by the ministers responsible for science and technology in 2003, we note the 2010 support from the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST) to present this initiative to the African Union Heads of State Summit.
“Recognising the importance of the SKA on science and technology for economic development and the cross cutting relevance of science, technology and innovation in supporting all programmes that are meant to achieve equitable and sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals,” the ministers said in a joint statement.
“Realising the importance of the SKA in economic and skills development; collaborating as African partners on science and technology; and the importance of sharing experience and expertise on science and technology.”

Acknowledging the importance of science, technology and innovation emanating from the SKA project “in creating our knowledge economies and driving our human capital development programmes,” the ministers agreed to strengthen cooperation as follows:

Each partner country will set up a site readiness team to optimise processes surrounding land, mobility of people & equipment,

The African partner country site readiness teams must meet twice a year to share relevant information on infrastructure, regulations and progress on requirements for the success of the African SKA bid,

The South African Department of Science and Technology will assist the associate and partner countries in crafting a human capital development plan and a communications programme linked to the African SKA bid.

The African SKA partner countries are SA, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya, Zambia and Ghana.

SA is currently in a race with Australia to host the device, described by SKA SA project leader Bernie Fanaroff as the world’s largest ever scientific instrument. Work on the SKA is due to start in 2013, subject to funding. It will be constructed in a phased manner over seven years although operations are set to start in 2015, provided a significant portion of the array has been commissioned. The bulk of the dishes will be installed at a site at Klerefontein, some 78km outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape in SA where the government has by law established a radio astronomical reserve.

Most of the money required to build the SKA will be provided by the international astronomical community, with eight European countries – France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK – contributing 40% of the total bill and the US a further 40%.