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A bright future for Southern African radio astronomy?

We receive very little news directly from the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project. However, the following extracts from Die Burger for 19 February 2005 and the South African Press Association (via the American Astronomical Society!) reveal some of the activities currently in progress:

'Telescope can place South Africa at the pinnacle of astronomy'

Foreign investment in astronomy appears set to provide a major boost to South Africa's economy over the next decade, according to Mr Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister for Science and Technology. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) will be officially taken into use at Sutherland in November.

South Africa has also applied to host the world's largest radio telescope. "The chance looks good that the bid can be successful", said Hanekom in Parliament. The international committee of the project, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), that has to decide where the $1.5 billion (R9 billion) project will be built, has already flown over the suggested site. If South Africa wins the bid for the SKA, it is said that, with the SALT at Sutherland and the HESS telescope in Namibia, southern Africa will be placed at the leading edge of astronomy worldwide. The international SKA committee will make its decision at the end of 2006. The purpose of the SKA, which will eventually have an area of a million square metres, is to detect radiation that was emitted 300,000 to a billion years after the Big Bang. Cosmic structures, from which the present-day galaxies were born, formed at that time. A demonstration unit of the SKA, 'Pathfinder', is being developed.

Also, NASA is considering placing a part of its 'Deep Space Array Network' (DSAN) in South Africa. The DSAN is designed to enhance the capabilities of NASA's existing 'Deep Space Network' (DSN), an international network of antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions, as well as radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The DSN currently consists of three deep-space communications facilities located about 120º of longitude apart around the world. One is at Goldstone, in the Mojave Desert (California), another is near Madrid (Spain) and the third is near Canberra, Australia. According to Hanekom, NASA is set to take the decision to proceed within the next two months.

The government from now on is going to invest more money in scientific and technological projects. The money spent on science and technology has decreased since 1990 because government spending on nuclear power and defence has been drastically reduced. In 1997 only 0.67% of the GNP was set aside for this.

Last year it increased to 0.76%, but it is still less than the 2.3% average for members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The department will try to raise this number soon to at least 1%.

(Translations by ISG & HG; MNASSA, vol 64, nos 3&4, News Notes, p 40)



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