SA ready to host the SKA - Pandor
Cape Town - South Africa is ready to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the minister of science and technology has said.
"Plan A, we're ready to host the SKA; plan B, we're ready to host the SKA; plan C, we're ready and I think that's the message we hope you will help us communicate," Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor told News24.
The SKA will be one the world's largest science projects as it aims to build over 3 000 linked radio telescopes in either SA or Australia which have both submitted competing bids.
SA has built seven telescopes in the Karoo near the town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province as a precursor to the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) which will consist of 64 dishes.
Pandor sent a determined tone for South Africa's bid to host the instrument and several independent scientific reviews of the site, technology and design have praised the team for the work that has been done so far.
"We have a range of work that we're doing; we spoke about some of the plans: The MeerKAT we've already advertised, the VLBI is a long-term astronomy infrastructure initiative, we've spoken to that, but I don't want us to mince our words or to send mixed messages: The iconic target for us is the SKA," Pandor said.
The board of the SKA is scheduled to meet on April 4 where it is expected that a decision might be made on the site for the SKA.
Some have said that political considerations may delay the process over several months as SKA member nations deliberate recommendations from the review panel.
Pandor was bullish about the process, saying that SA had received significant support from the AU and the European Parliament which recently adopted declaration 45 which aimed to develop and strengthen radio astronomy partnerships between Europe and Africa.
"But we mustn't give them too long a rope. We as ministers want a decision. It's very nice to have meetings all over the world, but we actually want to know what we should plan for.
"So the South African team will make it clear that we want a decision," Pandor said.
Pandor rejected suggestions that the SKA be shared between SA and Australia.
"I've indicated that I agree with the Australian minister that a joint site is not a good option at all. It's one of the few things we agree on."
The Australian media has hinted that placing the SKA in Africa was not a good idea because of political instability on the continent, but the review panel has analysed all factors for the site in their terms of reference.
SA has also signed strategic relationships with a variety of companies like Microsoft, Nokia and Intel to partner in the development of technology for the SKA.
"We believe we're ready; our site is a better site. We've believe we've got the astronomers, the engineers, the technology, the world's support. We think we'd be a brilliant choice," Pandor said.
- Follow Duncan on Twitter