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12 July 2011

South Africa 'ready to host the SKA'


Artist's impression of the core of the Square Kilometre Array. The full facility will comprise around 3 000 antennas with a combined collecting area of roughly one square kilometre (Image: Swinburne Astronomy Productions / Square Kilometre Array)

South Africa is fully committed to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, and has done considerable work in support of its bid to host the world's most powerful radio telescope, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor told a SKA meeting in Canada on Wednesday.

Briefing a SKA Forum meeting in Banff, Pandor said South Africa's commitment to advancing the SKA project "has been cemented in all spheres of our government, including at the provincial level.

"We have chosen an exceptionally good site for the SKA in a remote region of South Africa, a region with very little economic activity," Pandor said. "We have provided statutory protection for the site through the Geographic Astronomy Advantage Act."

South Africa, allied with eight other African countries, is competing against Australia (allied with New Zealand) to host the €1.5-billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an instrument 50-100 times more sensitive and 10 000 times faster than any radio imaging telescope yet built.

The international science funding agencies and governments involved in the international SKA consortium are due to announce the winning bidder in 2012, with construction likely to start in 2016 and take place in phases over several years, with completion by about 2022.

If South Africa wins the bid, it stands to gain major international recognition in the fields of science and technology.

Pandor said important milestones related to the MeerKAT, South Africa's SKA precursor telescope, had been achieved, many of them ahead of schedule.

"Our progress has allowed us to plan to publish tenders for Meerkat at the end of this year," she said.

Pandor also said South Africa was committed to providing the world with the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere until the SKA is completed.

"We hope that the immense potential of MeerKAT will not be ignored when the most efficient and cost-effective roll-out for phase one of SKA is considered," she said.

The African Union unanimously endorsed South Africa's SKA bid at the 15th AU Summit of Heads of State in Uganda last year.

SAinfo reporter and BuaNews