China key player in SA SKA bid

2012-02-23 14:42

Cape Town - China has emerged as a key player in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid and South African government officials are in the Asian country to give an update on the bid to host the instrument.

"Our mission is to further develop the already excellent relationship between the South African and Chinese governments, scientists and business, especially in light of the decision by the Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] to make radio astronomy one of their main focus areas in science and technology", said deputy minister of science and technology, Derek Hanekom.

South Africa and Australia are bidding to host the SKA which will consist of over 3 000 linked radio telescopes, estimated to cost about €1.5bn.

Hanekom is updating the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Astronomical Observatory of China and Chinese companies on the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) meant to be a test-bed for the SKA, but has become a serious instrument in its own right.

The MeerKAT will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes and the South African government has committed $300m to building it regardless of whether the country wins the SKA.

Astronomy boost

China is a member of the board of directors of the SKA organisation and the country has built its own telescopes.

"China is becoming a leader in radio astronomy and the Fast [Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope] telescope being built by the National Astronomical Observatory of China will be a world class and very important instrument," said Dr Bernie Fanaroff, director for the SKA Project Office of South Africa.

The proposed site for the SKA is near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province and it is ideal for astronomy because the area is dry and underdeveloped.

In 2011, a design review praised the development of the MeerKAT as well as the site in the Karoo which has been designated a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007.

South Africa's bid for the SKA was unanimously endorsed by the African Union last year and Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia have joined SA in the bid for the instrument.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said that the MeerKAT was a boost for astronomy in Africa.

"We will build MeerKAT, but we have an exciting initiative that we're currently trying to promote on the continent. That of building a VLBI [Very Long Baseline Interferometer] of radio satellites connected across the African continent and linking in to the VLBI network in Europe as well as the Americas," Pandor told News24.

Fanaroff said that the SKA, which is scheduled for completion by 2024, would also promote collaboration between regions.

"We look forward to China continuing to play a very important role in the SKA and to increasing collaboration between Chinese and South African astronomers and scientists in the other countries of the Brics."

A final decision on the country to host the SKA is expected by April 2012.

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  • zaakiro - 2012-02-23 15:06

    I can already see many who will say the Govt. is wasting money and such projects should be lower on the agenda. But i bet for those involved must be a massive endorsement.

      Spyker - 2012-03-09 18:32

      Sad as it is, I wish Australia will get this project - the last thing we need is to become a puppet state of China.

  • arrie.rossouw - 2012-02-23 15:11

    Smart of the Minister to point out the Brics partnership, African cooperation with VLBI. Much better proposition than that of Aus/NZ bid.

  • david.streicher - 2012-02-23 15:18

    of course they are..

  • Leon - 2012-02-23 15:33

    Australia has earthquakes and regular floods in the areas they want to use for the SKA. The area around Carnarvon is vesry stable and dry and does not vibrate as much as Australia. It make sSouth Africa perfect for the SKA. It is so obvious. Unless Australia give money under the table, I cannot see how they can give it to Australia.

  • Gary - 2012-02-23 16:02

    I am totally for cooperation, on the scientific front, but I do not favour any arrangement that puts a foreign country, such as, China, or any other country for that matter, in the driving seat. South Africa for South Africans.

  • Nkululeko - 2012-02-23 17:51

    I think this is going to be a good investment to our country. I'm positive that we will certainly going get it, as we are fairly stable country, in terms of economy and climate.

  • Ma - 2012-02-23 18:35

    Keep the Chinese OUT OF AFRICA. They are a TERRIBLE CRIMINAL bunch of People. KEEP THEM AWAY FROM US!!!

      mommaroodle - 2012-02-27 12:34

      They are one sick nation with no regard for human life - still the only country in the world where infanticide is condoned, not to mention the atrocities they commit against animals and on top of that the rhino crisis on our hands mainly because of the HUGE demand for rhino horn in ASIA - STAY AWAY CHINA - I DONT WANT YOU HERE!

  • thomas.robbertse - 2012-02-23 19:08

    Winning this bid would serve us proud! We are certainly capable to enter this space and prove our abilities as a scientific player on the globe..

  • IrvinIco - 2012-02-23 21:12

    The SKA project will boost our country`s astronomical advancement and create some employment. I`m rooting for our country to win the tender. Let China`s influence in the awarding of the tender be in our favour

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