China key player in SA SKA bid

2012-02-23 14:42
Cape Town - China has emerged as a key player in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid and South African government officials are in the Asian country to give an update on the bid to host the instrument.

"Our mission is to further develop the already excellent relationship between the South African and Chinese governments, scientists and business, especially in light of the decision by the Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] to make radio astronomy one of their main focus areas in science and technology", said deputy minister of science and technology, Derek Hanekom.

South Africa and Australia are bidding to host the SKA which will consist of over 3 000 linked radio telescopes, estimated to cost about €1.5bn.

Hanekom is updating the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Astronomical Observatory of China and Chinese companies on the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) meant to be a test-bed for the SKA, but has become a serious instrument in its own right.

The MeerKAT will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes and the South African government has committed $300m to building it regardless of whether the country wins the SKA.

Astronomy boost

China is a member of the board of directors of the SKA organisation and the country has built its own telescopes.

"China is becoming a leader in radio astronomy and the Fast [Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope] telescope being built by the National Astronomical Observatory of China will be a world class and very important instrument," said Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director for the SKA Project Office of South Africa.

The proposed site for the SKA is near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province and it is ideal for astronomy because the area is dry and underdeveloped.

In 2011, a design review praised the development of the MeerKAT as well as the site in the Karoo which has been designated a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007.

South Africa's bid for the SKA was unanimously endorsed by the African Union last year and Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia have joined SA in the bid for the instrument.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said that the MeerKAT was a boost for astronomy in Africa.

"We will build MeerKAT, but we have an exciting initiative that we're currently trying to promote on the continent. That of building a VLBI [Very Long Baseline Interferometer] of radio satellites connected across the African continent and linking in to the VLBI network in Europe as well as the Americas," Pandor told News24.

Fanaroff said that the SKA, which is scheduled for completion by 2024, would also promote collaboration between regions.

"We look forward to China continuing to play a very important role in the SKA and to increasing collaboration between Chinese and South African astronomers and scientists in the other countries of the Brics."

A final decision on the country to host the SKA is expected by April 2012.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    derek hanekom  |  bernie fanaroff  |  naledi pandor  |  china  |  sa  |  astronomy  |  ska

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