Brazil adds its support to Africa’s bid for the SKA


South Africa and Brazil are to cooperate in securing Africa the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. The Department of Science & Technology says the collaboration follows a declaration the two countries signed in Pretoria last month reaffirming their determination to elevate bilateral relations to a strategic level.

The Declaration on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between Brazil and South Africa was signed between the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and her Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, the DST says in a statement issued Friday.
“At an estimated construction cost of $2,23 billion, the SKA is poised to be by far the largest radio telescope in the world, and consolidate Southern Africa as a major hub for astronomy in the world,” the DST says. The core of the telescope will be located in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, with about three antenna stations in Namibia, four in Botswana and one each in Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya and Zambia. Each antenna station will consist of about 30 individual antennae.

As an international research centre located in Africa, the project is set to help kindle the imaginations of young Africans and inspire them to pursue mathematics and science at school, and to follow careers in science and engineering. On other science and technology issues of cooperation, the two countries have agreed on include innovation, space science, information and communication technology, nanotechnology, renewable energy, biotechnology, and tropical medicines. They have also agreed to work bilaterally and with other countries, to create an extensive research programme on the seabed and marine resources of the South Atlantic Ocean.

In strengthening human resource development, the two countries will promote the exchange of researchers in the area of astrophysics and earth observations. On climate change, South Africa and Brazil will collaborate in the implementation of Copenhagen Climate Change Accord and ensure a balance between adaptation and mitigation, as well as between development and climate change.

This includes compliance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and with the Kyoto Protocol to address the problem of climate change meaningfully and to implement the Bali Action Plan and Roadmap.

In this regard, they will formulate joint positions for negotiations at the global level, based on the principle of common responsibilities and capabilities, the DST says. They will lobby jointly for support from developed countries, in particular, finance, technology and support for capacity building, in line with their commitments under both the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Bali Action Plan. They will also support the need for a balanced system of intellectual property capable of addressing issues of health, poverty eradication, climate change and access to knowledge, through access to technology.

In a separate development, the African Union (AU) has acknowledged the significance of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in bringing much-needed development to Africa. At the 15th ordinary session of the assembly of Heads of State and Government that ended on July 27, the AU recognised the importance of the science, technology and innovation emanating from the SKA project. “This will drive human capital development programmes on the continent, and boost the move towards knowledge-based economies,” the DST says. The assembly, attended by President Jacob Zuma, expressed its appreciation for South Africa’s efforts in coordinating the bid to promote space science and technology in Africa.

It also endorsed South Africa’s collaboration with other African countries.

If Africa wins the bid against Australia – the decision should be announced in March 2012 – this will be a major step in developing high-level skills and cutting-edge technology infrastructure in Africa, and attract expertise and collaborative projects to the continent. The SKA precursor, the MeerKAT, and the SKA have been the focus of what is probably the largest astronomy-focused human capital development project in the world. Already, the Department of Science and Technology is funding six 15-year research chairs in radio astronomy, each worth just over €300 000 per year (inflation-linked).

In addition, 215 grants have been awarded to young people, mainly for postdoctoral, PhD and MSc research relating to the MeerKAT and the SKA, including some for undergraduate study in physics. A technician training programme is also being supported, the DST says.

Pic: Three of seven MeerKAT precursor array dishes. MeerKAT is a testbed or the African SKA.