Carnarvon - Science and astro tourism will soon be driving the economy and turning the Northern Cape into an economic and tourism hub.
This is according to Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Economic Development, who was speaking at an event at the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) African core site in Carnarvon, Northern Cape this weekend.
He said the MeerKAT is creating jobs and providing much-needed skills to the locals.
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, who accompanied Patel, released the first light image at the launch of the MeerKAT Array Release 1 (AR1) telescope in Carnarvon on Saturday.
AR1 is the first 16-dish array scientists can use for research. There will ultimately be 64 dishes.
According to Patel, the government is planning a corridor from Sutherland where the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is located, all the way to MeerKAT. “We thus see the SKA project as a catalyst for a new economy here."
He said mega science will be the 21st century economic driver in South Africa. “What nuclear and the space programmes did for the United States and the Russian economies, shows how important mega science is in the nation’s economic development."
According to Patel the MeerKAT project has already created 422 jobs, with more than 50% of these held by young people - evidence that SKA and MeerKAT are empowering the youth.
He said more than 800 people have been supported by skills development over the last number of years, ranging from postgraduate studies to sought-after artisanal skills.
Pandor said that the SKA project will have an immense impact. "R300bn was invested as part of the infrastructure programme. Infrastructure is critical to stimulate economic growth.
"The MeerKAT telescope, which is predominantly a locally designed and built instrument, shows the world that South Africa can compete in international research, engineering, technology and science. We are proud of our scientists and engineers for pioneering a radio telescope that will lead to groundbreaking research," Pandor said.
Dr Rob Adam, the project director of SKA South Africa, said that MeerKAT AR1 - and its first results - was a significant milestone for South Africa. “Through MeerKAT, South Africa is playing a key role in the design and development of technology for the SKA. The South African team of more than 200 young scientists, engineers and technicians, in collaboration with industry, local and foreign universities and institutions, has developed the technologies and systems for MeerKAT," he said.
MeerKAT, with its 64 dishes, will become the most sensitive radio telescope in the world. It is a precursor to the SKA and follows the KAT-7 telescope which was an engineering test for MeerKAT.