South Africa’s executive has lauded the launch of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory as a coup for advancing Africa’s stature as a significant player in science.
The observatory was officially opened by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor in Kutunse in late August. The radio telescope was repurposed from a communications antenna over a number years. Once commissioned, it is expected that there will be an influx of astronomers who will converge to the facility to do research.
Ghana is one of South Africa’s partner countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, in hosting the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array. In South Africa, the SKA will be hosted in the Northern Cape’s Karoo.
The Ghana radio telescope, the first of its kind on the continent outside of South Africa, reached a significant milestone where “first light” was observed. First light is a process whereby the functionality of a radio telescope is tested for the first time, and the very first images are received. This is done by observing a well-known source and calibrators, and comparing the data received by the new instrument with that already existing from others.
On Friday, Cabinet said the launch of the Ghana radio telescope was a major stride for the development of science in Africa.
“This is significant for Africa’s participation in the SKA project. The observatory in Ghana is the first other than South Africa, as one of the partner countries,” Cabinet said in a statement.
As SKA Africa partners, the SKA South Africa/Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory group collaborated with Ghana to harness the radio astronomy potential of the redundant satellite communication antenna in Kutunse.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has funded a large part of the conversion project through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund, which is aimed at strengthening cooperation between South Africa and other African countries.
A vital part of the effort towards building the SKA on the African continent over the next decade is to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the project.
At the time of the launch, Minister Pandor said the launch of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory meant Ghana was open for science research.
“What it means is that now, scientists can do their research work using that antenna and radio telescope. It means they can do it here in Ghana and that they will partner and collaborate with researchers in other parts of the world and they will be able to produce papers that will be peer reviewed, which will appear in international journals.
“We hope they will make exciting discoveries of stars and galaxies that were not identified before,” Minister Pandor said at the time.
The SKA is a multibillion rand international radio telescope that will be between 50 and 100 times more sensitive than any instrument ever built in Africa. South Africa has partnered with several other African countries — Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia — to host the SKA.
Cabinet welcomed the increase in the uptake of locally developed technologies and innovations in South Africa. Science and technology is a key enabler in realising the economic growth rates projected in the National Development Plan.
According to the 2015 Science, Technology and Innovation Performance Report of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI), technology expenditure nearly doubled as a percentage of GDP from 0.018% in 2005 to 0.033% in 2015.
“More departments, private sector and research institutions have invested a great deal of technology and innovation in their respective developmental programmes,” Cabinet said.
As a way of further strengthening these achievements, Cabinet approved three opportunity areas, identified by Department of Science and Technology, to support in the health technologies, defence and security related technologies and social infrastructure in respect of technology. Cabinet has also endorsed additional work of tracking and measuring the development of technology and innovation in social and economic development.