News24

Total political support for SKA - Zuma

2012-10-10 08:54

Carnarvon - President Jacob Zuma endorsed South Africa’s project to construct the Square Kilometre Array telescope when he visited the site on Tuesday.

The president arrived in an Air Force helicopter and toured the site after listening to a briefing from SKA SA project manager Dr Bernie Fanaroff and Professor Justin Jonas, associate director of science and engineering at the SKA, among others.

SA will first build the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) which will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes and these will eventually be absorbed into Phase I of the SKA which will consist of 250 instruments.

“Total political support is what we have. We have had a lot of discussions in Cabinet with the minister and the deputy minister. They were briefing us on the development here,” Zuma told News24 at the site.

It was Zuma’s first visit to the site near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape and he expressed the government’s continued support for science and technology.

Complexity

“We supported this [MeerKAT project] fully because we understood that South Africa is at the cutting edge of science in the world,” he said.

The project’s complexity was explained by Fanaroff who said that the initial expectation of a set of linked radio telescopes required extensive engineering know-how.

“I think the SKA board is realising now that as an engineering project, this is a very complex project.”

Some of the engineers on the MeerKAT project have been sent to the UK to help the SKA office and assist in finalising the specifications for the telescopes.

“We have people who really are playing a leading role in this world project and we’re making them available to the office in Manchester. We believe that the benefits of making people available will far outweigh the costs to us,” said Fanaroff.

While the MeerKAT was initially designed to be a test bed for the SKA, it has emerged as a scientific instrument in its own right.

Several scientists have applied to use the MeerKAT to conduct surveys.

A team led by Professor Matthew Bailes will test Einstein’s theory of gravity and gravitational radiation by investigating the physics of neutron stars; the Laduma (Looking at the Distant Universe with the MeerKAT Array) project will be led by UCT’s Dr Sarah Blyth and will examine neutral hydrogen gas in the early universe.

There are also several partnerships that are being conducted by the SKA SA and local and international institutions.

The MeerKAT is scheduled for completion in 2016. The SKA is expected to cost €1.5bn and is scheduled for completion by 2024.