SA helps fund Mozambique radio telescope


South Africa is donating R500 000 to Mozambique for its radio telescope, in aid of skills development for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor met with her Mozambican counterpart Professor Venancio Massingue last week to discuss the two radio telescopes.
“Skills development and training of students in radio astronomy is one of the focus areas of our efforts to ensure the partner countries participate in the SKA science,” says Pandor.

She explains that it is for this purpose that SA has committed to assist Mozambique with building a radio telescope at the Maluana Science and Technology Park in the next six to 12 months.
“Ideally, we should try to ensure that the Mozambique Radio Astronomy Observatory is operational very early next year. This would demonstrate our collective determination and capacity to the international SKA community ahead of the decision being made.”

However, the minister says this strategic intervention requires determined and focused effort from both parties.
“We will need to mobilise very urgently the necessary financial planning, skills development and engineering resources. We will need to do so jointly. In this regard, SA has agreed to immediately make R500 000 available to begin the preliminary work on developing the Maluana site for the radio telescope.”

At the same time, the SA SKA Project Office and the Department of Science and Technology will work with Mozambique on the funding requirements for the Mozambique radio telescope, according to Pandor.

The department says SA and Mozambique signed a bilateral cooperation agreement in July 2006.

The SKA is a mega telescope, about 100 times more sensitive than the biggest existing radio telescope.

SA is bidding against Australia to host the telescope and a decision will be made next year. The African effort to host the SKA is made up of nine partner countries, which will ultimately host the SKA telescope stations. The partner countries are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, SA and Zambia.

The SKA will consist of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies, with a core of about 2 000 antennae and outlying stations of 30 to 40 antennae each, spiralling out of the core. These stations will be spread over a vast area of up to 3 000km.

Research areas will include observational radio astronomy, radio astronomy instrumentation, digital signal processing, distributed data processing and RF broadband feeds, receivers and cryogenic packages.

Pandor says the project is at a stage where information is being collated on the SKA for the Site Selection Group.
“The Site Selection Group has set a deadline of 15 September 2011 for the bid countries to submit all their reports. While we are making progress, there is still a significant amount of work to be done to complete information for the bid file.”