SKA to ‘change image of SA, Africa’


31 August 2012

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope and its precursor, the MeerKAT, will create enormous opportunities while helping to change the image of South Africa and the continent, says Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.

Speaking at The New Age Business Briefing in Johannesburg on Friday, Pandor highlighted the importance of the SKA. She said it would be most significant radio telescope ever built with the building to take place in South Africa and eight partner countries, along with Australia and New Zealand.

The SKA would change perceptions of Africa, with international experts now coming to Africa to do their best research.

“Who comes to South Africa to actually do their best research? They come here to examine us, to find out how poor we are … It’s an absolutely different image of the continent,” Pandor said.

“[They will] not be here to exploit our diamond, gold and platinum but to say, I want to do iconic research on an iconic telescope.”

South Africa is preparing to build the 64-dish MeerKAT, a precursor to the SKA, alongside the planned SKA site in a radio astronomy reserve near the small town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.

Also known as the Karoo Array Telescope, the MeerKAT will be the most sensitive centimetre-wavelength radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, constituting 25% of the first phase of the SKA’s mid-frequency array.

Pandor said plans for the construction of the MeerKAT telescope had begun and the laying down of the antennae would start early next year.

Observation time on the MeerKAT has already been booked far in advance by astronomers from around the world – indication of the capabilities of South Africa’s engineers and scientists, Pandor said.

“We are really thrilled that the science of astronomy can be a boost for building the level of science interest and careers we want to see in our country.”

The SKA also provided massive opportunities for South African-based high technology content companies, she said, adding that building a knowledge-based economy would give South Africa a basis for sustained economic growth.