Pandor: delay likely on SKA bid decision

A DECISION on whether South Africa or Australia has won the bid to host the core site for the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is "likely to be delayed", says Science Minister Naledi Pandor

Briefing the media in Johannesburg, less than a week before members of the SKA organisation are set to meet on the matter, she said South Africa would, however, push for a speedy decision.

"The SA team will make it clear: we want a decision," Pandor told journalists.

Members of the SKA organisation will sit on Wednesday next week to start the process of deciding which of the two countries has won the bid.

"The anticipated date for a final decision is April 4, although this is likely to be delayed as members of the SKA organisation consider the final site decision," Pandor said.

Chairman of the SKA founding board John Womersley was reported last week as saying: "It is not likely that this meeting will make a final decision on the site; rather it will be the start of a process of discussion and negotiation between the members."

Yesterday science and technology department director-general Phil Mjwara said the SKA board would first have to settle two outstanding technical and scientific matters raised by Australia and that country's bid partner, New Zealand.

"If our optimism is correct [and this is decided]... then the board will probably discuss how to make the announcement; if not, I think they will discuss how to handle it going forward," he said.

Last week, the SKA site advisory committee (SSAC) handed over its recommendation on which of the two countries is better scientifically and technically suited to host the core site for the £3.5-billion (R42.9-billion) telescope.

Information leaked to the media earlier this month suggests that the committee has recommended the project be awarded to South Africa.

The five SKA member countries that will take the final decision are Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK.

In a statement handed to journalists at the briefing, Pandor said attempts by Australia to "diminish" the scientific and technical merits of Southern Africa's bid to become the site for the SKA were insulting.

She said that according to media reports, Australian politicians had, in the wake of the panel's recommendation, "engaged in a series of political lobbying visits to various countries which will vote on the site".

This was done in an attempt to "diminish Southern Africa's scientific superiority in the bid and ignoring the reported recommendation of the SSAC based on scientific and technical criteria".

Pandor also announced yesterday that Angola planned to join the SKA project.

"We heard this week that... Angola intends to apply to become a full member of the SKA project," she said.

South Africa has partnered with Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia to host the 3000 antenna that will make up the SKA.

Half of these will be located in a five-kilometre diameter region in the Karoo, while the rest will be spread up to 3000km from this central concentration. - Sapa

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.