African Union throws weight behind SKA bid

Pretoria – The African Union (AU) has acknowledged the significance of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in bringing much-needed development to Africa.

At an estimated construction cost of US$2 billion, the SKA is poised to be by far the largest radio telescope in the world, and consolidate Africa as a major hub for astronomy in the world.

At the 15th ordinary session of the assembly of Heads of State and Government, the AU recognised the importance of the science, technology and innovation emanating from the SKA project.

This, according to the AU, will drive human capital development programmes on the continent, and boost the move towards knowledge-based economies.

The assembly expressed its appreciation for South Africa’s efforts in coordinating the bid to promote space science and technology in Africa. It also endorsed South Africa’s collaboration with other African countries.

The core of the telescope will be located in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, with about three antenna stations in Namibia, four in Botswana and one each in Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Each antenna station will consist of about 30 to 40 individual antennae.

“If Africa wins the bid against Australia -the decision is expected to be announced in March 2012- this will be a major step in developing high-level skills and cutting-edge technology infrastructure in Africa, and attract expertise and collaborative projects to the continent,” the Department of Science and Technology said in a statement.

The SKA precursor, the MeerKAT, and the SKA have been the focus of what is probably the largest astronomy-focused human capital development project in the world.

Already, the Department of Science and Technology is funding six 15 year research chairs in radio astronomy, each worth just over €300 000 per year (inflation-linked).

In addition, 215 grants have been awarded to young people, mainly for postdoctoral, PhD and MSc research relating to the MeerKAT and the SKA, including some for undergraduate study in physics.

A technician training programme is also being supported.

Source – BuaNews