Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom has given the reassurance that the country's planned 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope array will be fully funded.
"The budget for MeerKAT is completely secure," he told Engineering News Online at the telescope's site in the Karoo, in the Northern Cape province, on Tuesday. "It's fully budgeted for."
By the time it is completed, in 2016, the MeerKAT will have cost the South African taxpayer about R5-billion. This figure will have been spread over some 12 years, although expenditures were very low in the early years, ramping up as the programme developed.
This expenditure includes the costs of developing and erecting the seven-dish KAT-7 prototype (now operating as a scientific instrument on the Karoo site and attracting international interest), the MeerKAT itself and the human capital development (HCD) programme implemented to support these instruments and South Africa's bid to host the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. This HCD programme has included the establishment of research chairs at South African universities, as well as the awarding of post graduate and post doctoral bursaries.
With South Africa having been selected to host the greater part of the SKA, the plan is that MeerKAT will, in due course, be incorporated into SKA Phase 1.
"What still hasn't been budgeted for is the transition from MeerKAT to SKA Phase 1," reported Hanekom.
"But that is not a South African budget. It's an [international] SKA budget. We don't anticipate any difficulties with resources for SKA Phase 1."