SA made the right decision to bid for SKA

South Africa, with its relatively small science budget, has to choose which projects to support with its limited resources.

It is difficult to compete with the likes of the US and China in fields such as biosciences or exotic material manufacture — which is not to say that we do not, but rather that it is not a focus.

Palaeosciences, astronomy, climate science and biodiversity are areas in which we have a natural advantage, by dint of the country’s location and environment.

By bidding for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), South Africa was backing a winning horse. The Northern Cape, with its high altitude, low rainfall and clear, unpolluted skies, is an astronomer’s dream.

But, more importantly, astronomy, and particularly radio astronomy, is a high skills science, with a large number of technological spin offs. For example, Wi-Fi was developed by radio astronomers in Australia.

In addition to €1m to join the international SKA Organisation, it is expected that the MeerKAT, South Africa’s precursor telescope, will cost about R2bn. SKA Organisation members — which include Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the UK — are in the process of negotiating the pre-construction phase of the telescope, which includes hosting agreements and the technology that will be used in the telescope antennae.

The government and SKA SA are pushing for the MeerKAT to be included in South Africa’s contribution to the SKA, but this is still under negotiation.

Writer: Sarah Wild

Picture credit: Business Day

  • This article was published on Business Day Live.


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