Outcomes of the First Ministerial Meeting of the Square Kilometre Array African Partner Countries
The science ministers, deputy ministers and representatives of the nine Square Kilometre Array (SKA) African Partner Countries, gathered in Pretoria on 26 March 2014 for the First Ministerial Meeting of the SKA African Partner Countries.
The science ministers, deputy ministers and representatives of the nine Square Kilometre Array (SKA) African Partner Countries, namely, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, gathered in Pretoria on 26 March 2014 for the First Ministerial Meeting of the SKA African Partner Countries.
The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate positions of mutual interest and agree on a process to finalise the SKA African Readiness Strategy and the Joint Implementation Action Plan. A process to achieve this by March 2015 has been agreed to by the partner countries today. The strategy is aimed at advancing radio astronomy programmes and building the requisite capacity in the respective countries for the African Very Long Baseline Interferometer (AVN) and SKA projects. The objectives are as follows:
· Meeting all the minimum regulatory and legal requirements for the successful construction and operation of the AVN and SKA telescopes.
· Developing a vibrant community of researchers and scientists to undertake radio astronomy studies across Africa.
· Developing a pool of engineers, technicians and people with other associated skills to support the design, construction, operation and maintenance of radio astronomy telescopes and related platforms.
· Building institutional capacity in universities, research institutions and government departments that promote the development of radio astronomy programmes and initiatives.
· Mobilising and leveraging both the funding and technical resources needed to realise Africa's vision for radio astronomy.
· Facilitating strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts, both regionally and globally.
The science ministers recognise and appreciate the positive progress being made on the following AVN and SKA projects.
· The meetings of senior officials of the African Partner Countries that have been taking place since 2006 to deliberate on SKA matters.
· The significant investments made by South Africa in infrastructure and human capital development programmes, leading up to the construction of the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope.
The ministers and their respective delegations will attend the inauguration of the first completed MeerKAT antenna tomorrow at the SKA core site, just outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.
· The funding commitments of €120 million by the international SKA Member Countries for the preconstruction phase of the SKA project – currently underway – to finalise the detailed design and specifications of the project.
· The recent funding announcement by the United Kingdom (UK) science minister of £100 million for the first phase of the SKA project, whose construction has been cost-capped at €650 million.
· The achievements of the AVN project, particularly the work being undertaken on the conversion of the 32-metre dish in Kuntunse, Ghana. A team of seven trainees from the GhanaSpace Science and Technology Institutehave been on a six-month training programme in South Africa since October 2013.
· The funding support of R120 million to the AVN project by the African Renaissance Fund of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa complemented by an additional R20 million from the Department of Science and Technology.
· The efforts being made through the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) to mobilise funding, technical and strategic partnerships for the realisation of mutual tangible benefits for Africa and Europe, including scientific, economic and industrial advances, through radio astronomy cooperation.
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About the SKA
The SKA will be the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre, giving 50 times the sensitivity and 10 000 times the survey speed of the best current-day telescopes. It will be built in Africa and Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of up to 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our universe, including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.
About the AVN
The AVN project aims to establish self-sufficient radio telescopes in Africa through the conversion of redundant telecommunications antennae into radio telescopes, "new-build" telescopes or training facilities with training telescopes. The AVN project is currently jointly funded to the tune of R141 million by the African Renaissance Fund of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa. It aims to –
· develop a network of Very Long Baseline Interferometry(VLBI)-capable radio telescopes on the African continent;
· transfer knowledge and technology to develop the necessary skills in participating countries in Africa to operate these telescopes independently;
· develop the skills needed in SKA partner countries to optimise the participation of these countries in SKA Phase 2;
· bring new science opportunities to participating countries over a relatively short time scale; and
· enable participation in SKA pathfinder technology development and science.
AERAP is a stakeholder forum established in support of declarations made by the African Union Assembly and the European Parliament.
The heads of state of the African Union Assembly issued declarations endorsing the SKA project at their meetings in both 2010 and 2012, expressing the African Union's unequivocal support for the development of radio astronomy programmes in Africa and for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa-European Union cooperation.
The African Union declarations were reciprocated by the European Parliament through Written Declaration 45/2011, endorsed in 2012, to promote European-African radio astronomy partnerships through science capacity building in Africa.
For more on AERAP, visit http://www.aerap.org/.