Pandor welcomes SKA LoI


Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor has welcomed the signing of a letter of intent by nine countries to see the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) built. South Africa, Australia, China, the United Kingdom (UK), France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and New Zealand signed the agreement Saturday declaring their common intention to see the SKA built and agreed to work together to secure funding for the next phase of the project.

The target construction cost is €1.500 million and construction could start as early as 2016, Pandor’s office says in a statement. The signatory parties represent organisations of national scale and will coordinate groups carrying out SKA research and development (R&D) in their respective countries.

Her office adds the development and construction of the MeerKAT radio telescope is playing an important role in the development of the SKA and South Africa’s expertise will be fully involved in the global effort to develop the cutting-edge science and technology to be used by the SKA. The design, construction and operation of the telescope has the potential to impact on skills development in science, engineering and in associated industries not only in the host countries but in all project partner countries, it adds.

In her response to the letter of intent ceremony, Pandor said, “The commitment to funding the SKA is significant as it demonstrates the countries’ commitment to make the SKA a success.”

The signing took place at a meeting that established the Founding Board for the SKA as a new management structure to guide the project into the next phase. The new board announced that the SKA Project Office (SPO) will be based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester in the UK. It is expected to supersede the existing SKA Development Office (SPDO) currently based at the University of Manchester.

Beyond the nine countries which have already signed the letter of intent, several countries have indicated they will sign in future. It is hoped that a formal structure will be established in July, at the international SKA Forum in Canada.

More than 70 institutes in 20 countries, together with industry partners, are participating in the scientific and technical design of the telescope which will be located either in Australia-New Zealand or southern Africa extending to the Indian Ocean islands.