South Africa was the host site recommended for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope by the SKA Site Advisory Committee, according to documents leaked to international media.
SA is bidding against the Australia-New Zealand joint submission to host the mega telescope, which will be the largest in the world. The committee studied both submissions and made a recommendation to the SKA board in the middle of February.
The recommendation was supposed to remain confidential and the board’s final judgement is to be announced on 4 April, if the decision is clear-cut, but media reports say SA was named the recommended site.
Department of Science and Technology (DST) spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, says until the department is officially informed, it cannot provide any details since all parties are bound by strict confidentially. “We take these reports as rumours. The minister insists we respect and observe the processes of the SKA board.”
The reports say the committee found the SA-led African bid to be stronger due to lower costs and a higher altitude.
The final decision rests with a vote of the member countries – China, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands. It is possible that Germany and Canada may join the member countries.
There will be a meeting of SKA members, excluding the candidates, on 4 April. The countries will look at the report, and if the report is clear-cut as to which bid won, a decision will be announced on 4 April. If there is no clear-cut decision between SA and Australia, there will be a prolonged process and a second round of voting will need to take place four to six weeks after 4 April.
The SKA will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth.
“The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, fibre networks, signal processing, software and computing, and power. The design, construction and operation of the SKA have the potential to impact skills development, employment and economic growth in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the host countries, but in all partner countries,” says the SKA Organisation.
It will consist of about 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies that will be spread over a vast area of up to 3 000km. The African SKA site bid is led by SA’s DST, and includes Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia, Mauritius, Kenya and Ghana.