SKA door open to Chinese companies

2012-10-15 08:35
Radio telescope dishes stand on the site of the MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Radio telescope dishes stand on the site of the MeerKAT near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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VIDEO: KAT 7 operation

2012-10-15 08:31

MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse chats about the operation of the KAT 7 in the Northern Cape in this YouTube video.WATCH

Carnarvon - The door is open to Chinese companies that might bid for tenders in the construction process of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), local officials have said.

Tenders for the construction of the massive science experiment to be shared between SA and Australia have not been decided, but there is no policy that excludes particular countries or companies.

"There's no policy saying any company can't participate, and I doubt that there will be such a policy. I think it will open to any company which has the appropriate skills and capacity," Dr Bernie Fanaroff, SKA South Africa project director told News24.

The SKA aims to build around 3 000 linked radio telescopes in the Karoo and is estimated to cost about €1.5bn upon completion in 2024.

The SKA organisation which is made up of member countries is responsible for deciding on procurement and tender policies.

Banned

"The SKA organisation is putting together an intellectual property policy and that will apply to everyone who works on the project and the procurement processes will be international tender processes," said Fanaroff.

Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE have been accused of being under the thumb of the Beijing government.

The US House Intelligence Committee and the Australian government have accused these companies of facilitating cyber espionage and Australia banned Huawei from bidding for the construction of that country's broadband network.

"It is a dangerous thing to suggest that you can solve these vulnerabilities by banning these companies," a Huawei representative told the BBC.

The department of science and technology was at pains to point out that work packages will be decided based on the expertise of a particular company.

"What will happen in our case is that we will be putting together work package consortia that will be working on the different aspects of the SKA. Our view that we will really identify and invite countries or engineers or scientists who have the best expertise in the country," said Dr Phil Mjwara Director General of the department of science and technology.

He said that once the SKA organisation had decided what the work details would entail, all members would be required to add their support.

"The project is not a project of the Chinese or South Africa: This project will be guided by a project office which will be based in the SKA. The type and design of the receivers that will be constructed will be a design of the project office and everybody will sign on the intellectual property that will be guiding the work packages."

Tenders

Fanaroff said that while SA was a shared host country, it did not have the final word on which companies received tenders to construct the instrument.

"It won't be our decision which companies get tenders: It will be decided by the organisation as a whole. So how they treat companies in different countries will depend on the procurement policy and the intellectual property policy. I don't think there'll be discrimination against any country," he said.

The Chinese state council recently gave its full support to the SKA and the government of that country has emerged as a key player in the organisation.

The construction and development of the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope) test bed was largely done with local skills while the Askap (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) was built with significant support from China.

The Chinese have been barred from participating in the International Space Station because of fears of intellectual property issues, but SA indicated that these allegations were unfounded.

"I'm not so sure what the intention of the Chinese would be if they are working in particular consortia or part of the consortia that will be doing that... these things are just allegations," said Mjwara.


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