SKA training a ‘world first’


Seven Ghanaians have arrived in South Africa to begin training on the independent operation and maintenance of radio telescopes in Africa.

This is in support of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, an international project to build a mega telescope that will be 50 times more sensitive and produce 10 000 times the survey speed of the best current-day telescopes. Its core will be located in SA, with a smaller array sited in Australia.

A statement released by ISC Intelligence in Science says the trainees will use a miniature version of a radio telescope to learn how to design, build, operate and maintain an African telescope network. The training will give them technical skills that are widely applicable, even outside radio astronomy.

The seven Ghanaians represent the first technical team from Africa to receive training as part of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network (AVN) programme, says the statement. The aim of the programme is to create a network of radio telescopes among the SKA SA African partner countries, namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

According to Anita Loots, associate director at SKA SA, this programme is a world first. “We hope that up to 70 individuals from the eight SKA partner countries could be trained in the same way over the next few years. [The training programme] is a combination of engineering and scientific skills development across disciplines, which will equip teams with a thorough understanding of their own instruments.”

Science and technology deputy minister Michael Masutha says the training programme is set to strengthen Africa’s technical capability. “Involving the African partner countries in the AVN training programme is a means of ensuring that Africa is capacitated and ready for hosting the SKA,” he says.

Initially, the VLBI project will focus on the conversion of large redundant or unused telecommunication antennas into the AVN, and on training local teams to operate the new observatories. Antenna conversions for the AVN have already started in Ghana and are under investigation in Kenya. Similar projects are foreseen in Zambia and eventually Madagascar. New telescopes are intended to be built in Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Mozambique.