D-Day for SKA announcement

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SKA may 25 REUTERS Dawn breaks over the Northern Cape near Carnavon, the proposed site for the SKA telescope.

The final decision on where to site the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project could be made by the parent body of the R15 billion-plus project today. And if an earlier recommendation is upheld, it will go to SA and its eight African partners.

A general meeting of the SKA Organisation’s members (SA is a founder member) is being held at Schipol International Airport in the Netherlands today. A joint SA media conference has been scheduled for 3.30pm by the cabinet’s Ministerial Committee on the SKA Project and by the SA SKA Project Office.

“It is expected that an announcement regarding the preferred site for hosting the SKA may be made (today) by the office of the SKA organisation, following the general meeting,” the notice stated.

Last month, the SKA organisation’s board agreed to establish a small scientific working group to assess how to derive value from the investments made by the two bidders: SA on behalf of Africa, and by a combined Australia-New Zealand consortium.

This came after Australian anger at what was believed to be a clear recommendation by an independent site assessment committee in favour of the African bid.

Officially, the working group was appointed to explore possible options to “maximise the value from the investments” made so far by both bidders, who are each spending hundreds of millions on prototype instruments that are very powerful radio telescopes in their own right. But the move was also interpreted as an attempt to ensure that Australia and New Zealand were kept in the project.

The SKA Organisation announced that the working group would report back to the members and its report would “provide additional information to facilitate the site decision for SKA”.

Science and Technology director-general Dr Phil Mjwara, who represents SA on the SKA Organisation, told the media at his department’s budget vote last week that he believed the working group’s report would likely be accepted by the board today but then referred to the members’ respective scientists for analysis.

He suggested then that this meant a final decision would only be taken during June, but speculation is that a final decision could be announced today. - Cape Argus

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