Participation as an African partner country, with South Africa, in the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope programme is important to Mozambique, says the country’s Vice Minister for Science, Technology, Higher and Professional Education, Leda Hugo. “It is important for it gives us the possibility to uplift our country through science, technology and innovation, in coordination with other African countries and in a global environment,” she says.
The country is already making preparations. “We have several programmes of training, some [of them] postgraduate programmes. At this stage, all of them are outside the country, including in South Africa,” she reports. “We are building a technical team to take responsibility for this programme, altogether with another centre we have, an ICT [information and communication technology] park in our country. “The main focus is on training young Mozambicans for this science, including postgraduate degrees.”
The country is identifying possible sites for outstations for Phase 2 of the SKA (outstations from the South African core, in the Karoo region). It already has a programme to benefit the rural communities situated near the outstations.
“At the rural sites, the first thing we do, when we choose a site, we put in infrastructure like a school, hospital, electricity, water – including wells – as far as is possible,” explains Hugo. “Then we build community competence centres, focused on the main economic activity in the village. This improves life in these areas.” The competence centres improve the villagers’ skills in, for example, farming or fishing.
In the interim, Mozambique, along with the other African SKA partner countries, is also a member of the African Very long baseline interferometry Network (AVN). This is a radio astronomy project that involves converting obsolete large telecommunications dishes into radio telescopes. “We do have a plan to have a radio telescope in Mozambique, for the AVN,” states Hugo. “We have not identified a dish yet.”
Earlier this month, SKA South Africa – the agency responsible for South Africa’s contribution to the SKA, as well as for the MeerKAT radio telescope array (a precursor to Phase 1 of the SKA) and the AVN – reported that telecommunications group Telkom had donated a 7.6 m dish, situated near the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (east of Pretoria), to be converted into a training radio telescope for Mozambique. A small team of Mozambicans will be trained to assemble and operate the radio telescope, which will then be dismantled, shipped to Mozambique and re-erected and operated at the Maluana Science and Technology Park.
Apart from South Africa and Mozambique, the African SKA partner countries are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia and Zambia. Ghana is currently the most advanced of the partners, other than South Africa itself, in implementing the AVN programme. A 32 m diameter former satellite earth station dish at Kuntunse, some 25 km north of the country’s capital of Accra, is currently being converted into a radio telescope.
The Kuntunse dish has been out of service for more than ten years, and a survey last year by a team from its original manufacturer, General Dynamics Satcom, identified serious corrosion in certain components. These components are now being replaced and others are being refurbished and upgraded, including the drive control system. In addition, the 250 t dish and supporting structure was successfully jacked up and repositioned on its original central rotation axis, from which it had departed over the years. This programme is being jointly executed by the Ghana Space Science Technology Institute and SKA Africa.