Cape Town - The cost of phase one of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project, billed as one of the largest scientific projects undertaken in the world, has been capped at R8.45-billion.
The portion of this amount that each of the 10 partner countries must contribute is being negotiated, but estimates of the cost of operating just the first phase of the telescope put the potential net foreign inflow into this country at close to R18-billion over the lifetime of the project.
This would be after South Africa’s contribution has been deducted, said Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom. He was replying to a parliamentary question by ANC MP Mamosoeu Makgate, who had asked whether international resources would be leveraged by the investment in SKA and what the benefits would be for South Africa and Northern Cape.
At last week’s launch of a training programme for South Africa’s eight African partner countries in the project, SKA-SA director Dr Bernie Fanaroff said the design process for SKA phase one would be launched officially in Qatar next week and would continue until 2016.
Tenders for the construction of this phase of the telescope would be awarded in 2017. The African countries would host two thirds of the overall project, and the rest by Australia and its partner, New Zealand.
During this phase, which would last until 2023, 254 radio antennas, or satellite dishes, would be erected in South Africa. The main SKA would consist of several thousand dishes each as high as five-storey buildings and would be built after 2025.
it was probable that most of the direct economic return on investment would be from operating the SKA and that South Africa would get “an appreciable amount” in contracts that would be split between infrastructure construction and hi-tech industry.
“Typical operational costs, which will be funded by the international SKA organisation, range between six percent and eight percent of the capital cost, or approximately R670-million a year in direct foreign investment. This is typically to pay for electricity, data transport and infrastructure maintenance.”
Benefits at municipal and provincial levels would mostly be through construction activities.
SKA-SA would undertake skills development programmes, Hanekom said. - Cape Argus