South Africa, which is up against Australia to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), could hear on Friday whether it has been selected as the site for the world’s largest radio telescope array.
In anticipation of an announcement, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the local SKA project office have scheduled a media briefing for Friday afternoon.
The briefing will follow a meeting of the SKA five-country committee, comprising Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, that will be held in the Netherlands. The DST said an announcement on the preferred site for hosting the SKA might be made at this meeting.
A decision on the location of the core site for the giant instrument was initially scheduled for April, but was delayed to give the SKA Organisation more time to investigate how investments made by Australia and South Africa, could be "maximised".
The €1.5-billion project involves the construction of the SKA, which will be an interferometric array of individual antenna stations, synthesising an aperture with a diameter of up to several thousand kilometres.
It will consist of 3 000 radio telescope dishes and will require between €150-million and €200-million a year for operations and maintenance, which will be funded by an international consortium that comprises 67 organisations in 20 different countries.
Should South Africa win the bid, the core of the SKA telescope will be located in Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape, with about three antenna stations in Namibia, four in Botswana and one each in Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. The Angolan government had committed itself to the project.
South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope array is intended as a precursor to the SKA radio telescope. The MeerKAT evolved from the original idea of the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT-7).
Similarly, the Australian SKA Pathfinder serves as a precursor to the SKA. The A$100-million project entails the construction of a telescope array of thirty-six twelve-metre dishes in the Mid-West region of Western Australia.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said earlier, that the SKA project had the potential to expand the number of Africa’s scientists and technicians and would allow South Africa and Africa to play an increasingly important role in the global knowledge economy.
Earlier this year, the materials used to manufacture the innovative composite radio telescope dishes developed in South Africa for the KAT-7, MeerKAT and, maybe, the SKA projects were tested and proven to meet their specifications by the Mechanical Testing Laboratory of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The main part of the test programme ran for 12 to 18 months, although some extended tests were still in motion.