SKA: There is no Plan B, Pandor says

2012-03-29 12:43

Hosting the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is South Africa’s Plan A, B and C, Science Minister Naledi Pandor has said.

South Africa will likely have to wait longer than expected to find out whether it has in fact won the bid to host the world’s most powerful radio telescope.

This comes after the Australian bidders, South Africa’s rivals, raised two issues that could not be resolved at a meeting last week, SKA director Bernie Fanaroff told a media briefing in Johannesburg today.

Pandor said the decision makers should not talk for too long.

“And we will tell them so. We as ministers need a decision,” she said. “We have to plan. The Australians agree on this.”

An announcement was initially expected on April 4, but Fanaroff said it was difficult to say exactly when an announcement would be made now, as the Australian queries first had to be resolved.

He said the date of the announcement depended on whether the issues could be resolved at a meeting on April 3.

“If last week’s issues are resolved on April 3, then the board (of the SKA Organisation) will probably discuss on April 4 when to make the announcement,” said Dr Phil Mjwara, science and technology director-general.

Fanaroff called the SKA project one of the biggest – if not the biggest – science projects in the world and compared it to the CERN large hadron collider and the Hubble Telescope.

“That is how big this project is,” he said.

The SKA will comprise 3 000 dishes, and South Africa has partnered with Namibia, Botswana, Madagascar, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Zambia and Mozambique for the bid. Angola also came on board this month, Mjwara said.

The SKA Organisation, with representatives from China, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, makes the final bid decision. South Africa needs three votes out of four to be selected.

Leaked reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and the authoritative British science journal, Nature, suggested that South Africa was the preferred bidder, according to a recommendation report by the independent SKA Site Advisory Committee (SSAC) and the SKA Siting Group (SSG).

Pandor only smiled smugly when asked about this.

“We have no comment, we respect the confidentiality of the report,” she said. “If you want to believe the media you can.”

Last week’s closed meeting gave the South African and Australian bid committees the chance to question the SSAC and SSG on the recommendation report.

The Australians rigorously questioned the panel but only two queries could not be resolved at the meeting, Mjwara said at this morning’s briefing.

The queries were related to the configuration of dishes and radio interference studies.

Fanaroff and Mjwara attended the meeting.

“The board agreed to pass on the site recommendation to the members of the SKA Organisation, together with a commentary that captured the board discussion and noted certain issues,” read a statement released after last week’s meeting.

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