Minister firms up R800-million MeerKAT expansion plan - TechCentral

Minister firms up R800-million MeerKAT expansion plan

Higher education, science & innovation minister Blade Nzimande said the 64-dish MeerKAT, the pre-cursor to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), will be expanded by 20 dishes at a cost of R800-million.

The minister said this when he outlined the department’s spending priorities during a virtual sitting of the national assembly on Friday.

Nzimande said that astronomy in South Africa remains important to its socioeconomic landscape and that the heritage will further be strengthened through MeerKAT, which has already been able to give the world a glimpse into the star-formation history of the universe.

“To extend its research area reach, MeerKAT is to be expanded by 20 dishes at a cost of R800-million. The expansion will be a partnership between South Africa, Germany and China.

“MeerKAT will further be integrated into SKA phase one (2019-2024) with an additional 133 antennas in the Karoo up to 80km baseline from the core to make it a 197-dish array mid-frequency telescope.”

The minister said MeerKAT, located in the Karoo, continues to perform great science and has contributed to several discoveries.

Benefits

The benefits of hosting these telescopes include a 75% local content component, direct investment of more than R300-million in the Northern Cape alone, the development of technical skills and big data capabilities, strengthening of university research programmes, opportunities for SMMEs and industry, community upliftment programmes, and investment in the youth.

“South Africa also participates in the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network project that 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.

“Our countries who participate in this initiative are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia,” he said.

Blade Nzimande. Image: GCIS

Meanwhile, Nzimande said government is collaborating with the department of tourism, the Northern Cape department of finance, economic development & tourism, and the Kareeberg municipality to establish the SKA Exploratorium in Carnarvon.

“This envisaged R60-million multi-purpose science tourism visitor centre will create jobs and boost tourism in the area, and also serve as an outreach hub. “A funding agreement is now being finalised for signature by the relevant parties in order to kick-start the project,” the minister said.

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