22 July 2014

South Africa: Minister Pandor Pleased With SKA Progress

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says progress is being made on the MeerKAT project and the building of global partnerships for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Delivering her department's Budget Vote in Parliament on Tuesday, the minister said R647 million has been allocated for the project for the 2014/15 financial year.

The MeerKAT radio telescope, currently being built some 90km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, is a precursor to the SKA telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1.

The SKA Project is an international enterprise to build the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world, and will be located in Africa and Australia.

"Preparing for the huge amounts of data produced by the MeerKAT and the SKA is also preparing South Africa to play a leading role in big data. We believe South Africa can become a global leader in this area if we make the right interventions now," she said.

The minister said India is expected to become a full member of the SKA Organisation, joining an alliance of countries that are currently investing close to R2 billion in design and other preparatory work.

She said South Africa's partners -- Australia, Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom -- are all firmly committed to the SKA.

"Compared to other large-scale research infrastructure projects of its kind, the progress of the SKA is remarkable. This is in no small measure due to South African leadership and know-how," she said.

Minister Pandor said the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) is being rolled out and will involve eight SKA African partner countries.

"Through the AVN programme, SKA South Africa, in partnership with the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, has also trained scientists and engineers from Ghana and Kenya, 13 of whom have spent six months to a year in South Africa.

"The AVN programme will continue to assist them with further training in their home countries, and will help them to train more technicians and scientists," she said.

Astronomy partnerships have also been initiated with China, India, Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States of America. Leading global astronomers such as Professor Russ Taylor are relocating to South Africa, taking up positions under the South African Research Chairs Programme, attracted by South Africa's commitment to and investment in science.

Meanwhile, Minister Pandor said of the Department of Science and Technology's R6.47-billion budget allocation, the largest portion (R3.5 billion) is allocated to research and development. Of this, R1.7 billion is to be spent on research grants and bursaries.

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