Although South Africa has been chosen to host the greater part of the €1.5-billion international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, two key agreements still have to be signed, SKA South Africa director Dr Bernie Fanaroff pointed out during a site visit to Carnarvon last week. These are the hosting agreement and the funding agreement.
The hosting agreement covers such issues as the import regulations that will cover equipment for the radio telescope, visa requirements for international SKA staff visiting South Africa, and who will actually own the SKA site: will the South Africans own it and lease it to the international SKA Organisation, or will the international agency directly own the land?
Other questions to be settled include how South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope array will be incorporated into the SKA, both in legal and physical terms. (MeerKAT is intended to form part of SKA Phase 1.)
The importance of the funding agreement is obvious. However, it is being negotiated against a backdrop of financial stringency in all the SKA funding countries. All the countries providing funding are interested in what contracts could be awarded to their industries.
“So there will be negotiations over procurement,” cautioned Fanaroff. Nevertheless, “we’re confident we’ll get a lot of work for our industry”.
The treatment of intellectual property is also being negotiated.
Fanaroff revealed that the Chinese State Council had thrown its weight behind the SKA, while Germany will sign up as a full member of the consortium by the end of this month. The international SKA board was coming together.
The bid to host the instrument was the “easy part”, he warned. “Implementation is the difficult part. It’s not coming to us on a plate. We’ll have to work hard. This project is much, much bigger than anything built before.”