S Africa, Australia in race to host largest radio telescope

S Africa, Australia in race to host largest radio telescope

Both the countries are showcasing their abilities to handle the sophisticated project by building powerful radio telescopes with an eye on bagging the bigger prize -- the central core of USD two billion 'Square Kilometer Array' (SKA) telescope.

Among the sites in reckoning are Murchison Shire in western Australia and Carnarvon in Karoo region of South Africa.

"The SKA will drive global technology development in hi-tech areas such as antennas, fibre networks, signal processing, software and computing, and will also benefit other systems which process large volumes of data," Naledi Pandor, South Africa's Minister for Science and Technology told PTI.

Australia has offered guarantees of ontime completion of the project citing previous experience and least number of human displacements in the development of the SKA.
Pandor cited on-time completion of several telescope demonstrator projects in South Africa, including the Phased Experimental Demonstrator (PED) telescope near Cape Town and the Experimental Development Model (XDM) telescope near Pretoria.

"More broadly, South Africa was globally recognised for its project delivery of the multi-million rand football stadia built for the FIFA World Cup 2010 and ultimately for the most successful World Cup," she said.

SKA will not be a five-day wonder but will revolutionise our understanding of the Universe, Pandor said and added that it will be the catalyst for great scientific growth in South Africa and Africa.

The African bid for the SKA, led by South Africa, includes Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius and Ghana.

The African Union has endorsed Africa's bid for the SKA under the leadership of South Africa, saying that it will help promote human capital development on the continent and boost its move to a knowledge-based economy, Pandor said.

The SKA will provide a sustained opportunity for our local researchers to work on major scientific projects of global importance, Pandor said.

In 2012, an international consortium will choose Murchison or Karoo as the home of the SKA -- a vast network of 15-meter radio telescopes comprising 3,000 steerable dishes that pivot on multiple axes to aim at celestial targets.

Both Murchison and Karoo are radio-quiet enough to have satisfied the baseline science requirements for the SKA, but some interference is unavoidable.

South Africa recently completed an array of seven dishes called the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT-7), which is a precursor to the MeerKAT, a 64-dish radio telescope.

"MeerKAT will be the largest and most sensitive telescope in the Southern Hemisphere until the SKA is built," Pandor said, adding that the project involves developing a technology for the SKA dish design.

The computing outputs of MeerKAT will allow the global SKA community to produce high fidelity estimates of data processing requirements.