Monday, January 25, 2021

RSA – Botswana and partners tipped to host multi-billion Pula world biggest telescope

A partnership between South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia is expected to upset hopes of the world’s biggest radio telescope being built in Australia and New Zealand.

Africa was the host site recommended for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope by the SKA Site Advisory Committee, according to documents leaked to international media.

Led by South Africa, the Africa consortium is bidding for dishes in eight countries ÔÇö a core in South Africa plus Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

The Africa consortium is bidding against the Australia-New Zealand joint submission to host the mega telescope, which will be the largest in the world. The committee studied both submissions and made a recommendation to the SKA board in the middle of February.

The recommendation was supposed to remain confidential and the board’s final judgement is to be announced on 4 April, if the decision is clear-cut.

Billions of Pula are expected to flow into economies of Africa partner countries should they win the bid. There are also expectations of inflows of intellectual capital with all the spin-offs in terms of some of the ICT and processing technology. According to the leak, lower power and data transfer costs of South Africa were a factor but the recommendation was very close.

The Australian, this week, however reported that Geraldton MLA Ian Blayney remained confident of Australia’s bid for the project, and said Australia’s long history in radio telescopy should be more important than benefits the project might hold for Africa.

“Some commentators have said that Africa has a ‘moral advantage’ over Australia, which I think indicates a guilt complex from the days of colonialism,” said Mr Blayney.

“If the final decision is based on logic instead of emotion, Australia should be the site.”
Premier Colin Barnett said Australia could not have worked harder on its bid.

“If we don’t make it, that’s a disappointment, but it’s not through a lack of effort or funding by the Australian and WA governments,” Mr Barnett said.

Australia is working with New Zealand in a bid to host the array on Mileura Station in the Shire of Murchison, 315km north-east of Geraldton.

At a cost of $2.5 billion, the SKA will be comprised of 3000 dishes each 15m in diameter, and would be capable of receiving signals from distant worlds, aiding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

A delegation led by CSIRO array director Dr Brian Boyle recently travelled to London, to make their pitch to the site selection advisory committee.

Members of the SKA Board will meet next Monday to discuss the recommendations, and the voting board members of China, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands will make the final decision by early next month.

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