MeerKAT is under way

[Image] The Kat-7 is the precursor to the MeerKAT, which is the precursor to the SKA.
(Image: Janine Erasmus)

[Image] An artist’s impression of the MeerKAT array in the radio-quiet Northern Cape.
(Image: Square Kilometre Array)

Marina Joubert
  SKA South Africa communications
  +27 83 409 4254

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Source: SAnews

The construction of the 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope array – a precursor of the multi-billion-rand Square Kilometre Array – has commenced, said science and technology minister Derek Hanekom.

The government has allocated R2-billion (US$213-million) to the SKA project over the next three years. Hanekom said MeerKAT would be completed by 2016. 

Presenting his budget vote on 16 May, Hanekom said world-class science is already originating from the completed KAT-7 precursor instrument, which consists of seven radio antennae.

“Local and international astronomers have used the instrument to observe repeating radio outbursts from a neutron star system known as Circinus X-1.

“Their results have just been accepted this week for publication in a prestigious journal of the Royal Astronomy Society. A global media release on this ground-breaking science coming out of South Africa has just been issued,” he said.

He praised the director of the South African SKA office, Dr Bernie Fanaroff, who was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe last month for his contributions to the field. Hanekom said that the honour was no surprise, as Fanaroff had put South Africa “on the map with the SKA project”.

Hanekom also said his department had secured R500-million (R53-million) over the next three years from the Economic Competitiveness Fund to strengthen innovation and research partnerships with industry. This was one of the recommendations made by a high-level committee, established by Hanekom’s predecessor Naledi Pandor to conduct a comprehensive review of South Africa’s National System of Innovation.

The committee released its review results in 2012. Hanekom said a number of other recommendations had been put into place, including the appointment of an international expert committee to develop a framework for a national integrated cyber-infrastructure system.

ZA-ARMC1 satellite

As part of the African Resource Management Constellation, which also involves Kenya, Algeria and Nigeria, South Africa has begun work on the ZA-ARMC1 satellite, and R272-million ($29-million) has been set aside this year to fund its construction.

“This satellite will greatly enhance Africa’s ability to monitor and manage its precious natural resources,” said Hanekom. ZA-ARMC1 will also reduce Africa’s dependency on getting data from European satellites.

He said the process to transfer the capabilities and intellectual property of South African National Space Agency (Sunspace) into a continued satellite programme is under way via a business rescue plan.

Review of the Technology Innovation Agency

A review of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which was also recommended by the innovation review, had been completed by a panel, and results have just been presented to the newly appointed TIA board, Hanekom said.

Last year TIA, the Agricultural Research Council, the National Research Foundation, the University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort Biological Products and the Council for Science and Industrial Research launched the Tshwane Animal Health Cluster, which is currently funding a portfolio of 29 investments in various animal diseases.

Ketlaphela consortium

Hanekom said the cabinet has given the go-ahead for the Ketlaphela consortium, which was established as a joint venture between the Industrial Development Corporation and Pelchem. 

The consortium will initiate an open process to secure a technical and investment partner for the construction and operation of a facility for the local manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients for anti-retrovirals (ARVs), as well as formulated tablets for government’s ARV treatment programme.

Hydrogen and solar technologies

A memorandum of understanding on the joint development of hydrogen and fuel cell vehicle platforms and technologies has been signed between the University of the Western Cape, Coventry University in the UK, and Microcab Industries, which will see Microcab using Hydrogen South Africa technologies.

The department is also working closely with the Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency, to finalise the Solar Energy Technology Road Map this year, while the Bioeconomy Strategy had been finalised and will be presented to the cabinet for approval.

Hanekom said the South African Research Chairs Initiative is steadily gaining traction, with an additional 35 chairs to be filled this year, bringing the total to 152 research chairs, covering a wide spectrum of disciplines.

Last month, the department launched its ninth centre of excellence, the Palaeosciences Centre of Excellence at the University of the Witwatersrand

The centre will collaborate with a number of institutions across the country, including Iziko Museums in the Western Cape and Ditsong Museums in Gauteng.