UK makes funding donation for SKA

2014-03-11 14:15
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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Cape Town - The UK has announced what is expected to be one of the first in a series of funding initiatives for the Square Kilometre Array telescope.

The SKA is a massive science and engineering project being built in both the Northern Cape province as well as in Australia, but funding commitments are lagging as the global economy remains sluggish.

UK Science Minister, David Willetts announced funding of £100m ($160m) for the SKA, speaking ahead of an event at Jodrell Bank Observatory on Tuesday.

"Investment in science is a crucial part of this government's long-term economic plan. It's about investing in our future, helping grow new industries and create more jobs - and that will mean more financial security for people across the country," said Willetts.

This money will help boost the SKA project which is slated to begin the first phase of construction in 2016.

Massive engineering project

"This is a really exciting announcement for the SKA and a solid proof that the project is now really underway. With such a major investment secured there is no stopping it," said Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation.

The SKA is the largest engineering project ever undertaken and will give astronomers an unprecedented view into the early history of the universe, more than 13 billion years ago.

The project will comprise more than 3 000 linked radio telescopes that will have a surface area of more than 1km², hence the name.

The South African precursor to the SKA is the MeerKAT which will consist of 64 radio telescopes and has been closely aligned with SKA requirements.



The instrument's engineering mirrors some of the challenges experts face in delivering the SKA.

"There are ongoing issues: Justin [Jonas] for instance is responsible for making sure that the dishes are delivered to quality, to performance, to schedule; to cost," Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director of SKA South Africa told News24 about the role of Professor Jonas in the local organisation.

Negotiations

Companies are being pressured to ensure that they are compliant with the engineers' requirements.

"And you have to keep pressure on the contractors," Fanaroff added.

While the general funding for the instrument is critical, negotiations between countries on the SKA Organisation will hammer out deals on contracts for member country companies.

"On the larger scale there's of course a negotiation of the funding agreements; procurement agreements: On what basis will contracts be allocated among companies in different countries," said Fanaroff.


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