SA committed to SKA - Pandor
Cape Town - South Africa is committed to providing the world with the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere until the SKA is completed, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday.
"We have made noteworthy progress on the precursor telescope MeerKAT... the South African SKA [Square Kilometre Array] precursor," she told the International SKA Forum meeting in Banff, Canada.
Over the past year all important milestones related to MeerKAT had been achieved, many of them ahead of schedule.
"Our progress has allowed us to plan to publish tenders for MeerKAT at the end of this year.
"I am also pleased to confirm that the commissioning of the KAT-7 Array will be completed by the end of 2011," she said.
KAT-7 was not only a test bed for MeerKAT. It was also a scientific instrument in its own right and was in demand for scientific work by African and international astronomers.
"Five years before the MeerKAT Array goes online for science operations in 2016, we have already allocated 43 000 hours of observing time, including to consortia led by many internationally renowned astronomers.
"Suffice it to say that SA is committed to providing the world with the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere - until the SKA is completed.
Without significant delay
"We hope that the immense potential of MeerKAT will not be ignored when the most efficient and cost-effective roll-out for the Phase One of SKA is considered.
"SA stands ready to discuss how our investment could best contribute to ensure Phase One of the SKA is implemented without significant delay."
Pandor said she hoped the deliberations of the SKA oversight committees had resulted in agreement that 2012 was confirmed as the year in which a final site decision will be announced.
"We are keen to move into the design and implementation phase," she said.
SA and Australia are the two bidders to host the SKA.
Since the 2010 meeting of the forum in Assen important progress had been made on the African bid led by SA.
In July last year, the African SKA project received political endorsement at the highest level.
The heads of state and government of the African Union adopted a declaration at its assembly, expressing the AU's support for SA to lead the bid to locate the SKA in Africa.
"Our commitment to the SKA is firm and steadfast.
"We have chosen an exceptionally good site for the SKA in a remote region of SA, a region with very little economic activity.
"We have provided statutory protection for the site through the Geographic Astronomy Advantage Act. The Act covers existing activities and transmissions, not only new ones. In this we are unique," Pandor said.
The site had been connected to the national power grid and to the national optical fibre backbone.
The networks were scaleable and some were now "SKA ready".
"We are collaborating with our national department of energy, our Electricity Supply Commission, and German and Chinese agencies to provide renewable energy to the MeerKAT and the SKA," Pandor said.