10 August 2010
The African Union has acknowledged the significance of South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid, saying that hosting the SKA would help drive human capital development on the continent, and boost its move towards knowledge-based economies.
At the recent African Union (AU) summit in Kampala, Ugansa, the AU recognised the importance of the science, technology and innovation emanating from the SKA project.
The assembly endorsed South Africa’s collaboration with other African countries and also expressed its appreciation for South Africa’s efforts in coordinating the bid to promote space science and technology in Africa.
Major hub for astronomy
At an estimated construction cost of US$2-billion (about R14.4-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.
The core of the telescope would 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 would 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.
Human capital development
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 (about R2.8-million) 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.