Cabinet briefed on progress in SKA, MeerKAT

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pretoria – Cabinet, at its ordinary meeting on Wednesday, was briefed on progress being made in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and MeerKAT projects underway in the Northern Cape.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope. It will be co-located in Africa and in Australia and have an unprecedented scope in observations, exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope, currently being built outside Carnarvon, is a precursor to the SKA telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1.

Both the SKA and MeerKAT projects constitute one of 18 Strategic Infrastructure Projects of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission.

These mega infrastructure projects contribute to the National Development Plan through their potential to promote economic development, unlock economic opportunities and promote job creation.

“Good progress is being made on the preparations for SKA-1 in South Africa including the acquisition of land and negotiations on the international treaty and the procurement process.

“The MeerKAT “first light” image of the radio sky produced with only 16 antennae shows more than 13003 radio galaxies in the distant universe, demonstrating that it is the best radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and should be the world’s best telescope of its kind, once completed.

“The full complement of 64 antennae will be installed and operational by March 2018, and is being built with 75% local content so as to prepare the local industry for deeper participation,” said a Cabinet statement issued by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) on Thursday.

Cabinet held an ordinary meeting on Wednesday.

Members of Cabinet were also briefed on the planned establishment of the merged South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and the hosting of the Hydrogen Epoch of Re-ionisation Array (HERA) telescope on the SKA site.

Cabinet said the HERA radio telescope is a complementary scientific experiment to advance the understanding of early galaxy formation and is funded mainly by the National Science Foundation of the United States in partnership with Cambridge University.

The concept of a single radio astronomy observatory, to be known as the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, will consolidate the different projects and activities of the South African radio astronomy landscape.

There are efficiency gains to be made with a single new National Facility under the National Research Foundation.

In his State of the Nation Address last week, President Jacob Zuma said significant progress has been made in building the SKA mega science project and reaping its benefits.

“Together with its precursor, the MeerKAT telescope, the SKA project continues to make important contributions to socio-economic development in South Africa.” - SAnews.gov.za

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