Africa steps up efforts for SKA bid

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pretoria - African countries have stepped up its efforts to beat out Australasia and emerge as the hosts Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and its associated infrastructure.

African Partner Countries recently met in Ghana to further strengthen efforts to host the largest radio telescope.

"The sharing of information and the commitment and enthusiasm shown by the partner countries has emphasised Africa's strengths in providing the best site for the SKA science," the Department of Science and Technology said.

Africa, along with Australasia (Australia and New Zealand), was short-listed in 2006 to host the SKA.

The SKA will be used to collect radio waves from space-like planets, stars and galaxies. It will consist of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies.

If Africa wins the bid, the core of the telescope will be constructed near Carnarvon in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape, with outlying stations of about 30 to 40 antennae located in African partner countries. These antennae will be connected via a data communications network to a data-processing facility.

The combined collecting area of the SKA will add up to one square kilometer (One million square metres).

"Though both sites (Africa and Australasia) have been found to be excellent to host the SKA, it is necessary to determine which is of the two locations best in terms of quality of site and cost to construct," the department said.

Other possible criteria such as socio-economic impact and favourable weather conditions may also be considered in site selection.

The African effort to host the SKA is made up of nine partner countries - Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia - which will ultimately host the SKA telescope stations.

Apart from the partner countries the African SKA initiative has another category of cooperation called the SKA African Associate Countries.

This involves participation in training student to become global experts in astronomy, engineering and information technology, the department added.

Membership to become an SKA African Associate Country is open to all African countries.

To ensure the success of Africa's bid to host the SKA, a working group and a steering committee was set up in 2008 to resolves issues related to the bid, while at the same time providing the best strategic direction for astronomy and associated people development.

The department said that Africa had made good progress over the years in its efforts the most recent being an endorsement for the bid by the 15th African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government in July this year.