17 May 2012
South Africa will be pushing for a decision on the site of the €1.5-billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope at the next meeting of the international SKA organisation members on 25 May, says Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
“The bidding countries submitted all the required technical information and we are impatiently awaiting the outcome of what we hope will be a final site consideration meeting on 25 May,” Pandor said during her department’s budget vote in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday.
South Africa, allied with eight other African countries, is competing against Australia (allied with New Zealand) to host the SKA, an instrument 50-100 times more sensitive and 10 000 times faster than any radio imaging telescope yet built.
A decision on the site was delayed in April to allow a scientific working group to explore ways of maximising investments already made by rival bidders South Africa and Australia-New Zealand – raising the possibility that the hosting of the world’s biggest radio telescope could be shared.
Pandor was disappointment at the delay, saying at the time that she hoped the SKA organisation “will make a decision in the first half of 2012 and that the decision will reflect the best scientific outcome.
“We believe we have an excellent site at which exciting science will be done,” Pandor said. “We in Africa are ready to host the SKA.”
On Tuesday, Pandor told Parliament that her department had allocated R500-million to South Africa’s SKA initiative in the 2012/13 financial year.
South Africa targets new satellites
She said her department would also be working with the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) to develop an implementation blueprint for its next satellite.
South Africa is planning to build its third satellite, to form part of a new African satellite constellation, as part of a government drive to grow the country’s share of the global market for small- to medium-sized space systems.
“Our intention is to expand our investment in ‘micro’ satellites, building on the existing SumbandilaSat platform,” Pandor told delegates at the 62nd annual congress of the International Astronautical Federation in Cape Town in October.
South Africa’s second satellite, the two-year-old SumbandilaSat, has been out of commission since a blast of solar radiation damaged its on-board computer in July 2011.
Sansa chief executive Sandile Malinga announced in September that South Africa hoped to start building a new, fully operational satellite – not just a prototype or “pathfinder” satellite such as SumbandilaSat – as early as 2012, for possible launch by 2014/15.
The new satellite would cost in the region of R400-million – compared to the R26-million spent on SumbandilaSat – and would also be used for earth observation, in line with the country’s space strategy, which seeks to apply satellite data to help to improve livelihoods, reduce poverty and manage natural disasters in the country and the region.