The SKA being built in Africa and Australia 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 telescopes. Photo: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
The consolidation of Africa’s collective effort on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) initiatives, is a demonstration that the continent is not turning its back on the application of science, technology and innovation to solve its developmental challenges.

“As Africans, we can no longer stand by and watch as other continents reap the rewards of scientific advancement,” said Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane at the opening of the fifth SKA and AVN projects African Ministerial Forum meeting at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

The annual meeting of SKA African partner countries brings together science and technology ministers and senior officials from South Africa, Kenya, Madagascar, Zambia, Ghana, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Mauritius.

The main aim of the SKA/AVN African Ministerial Forum is to provide political and strategic leadership on matters pertaining to the SKA and AVN projects and other relevant radio astronomy initiatives.

SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope to explore the universe.

Last year’s meeting took place in Accra, Ghana, and coincided with the launch of the Kutunse Radio Telescope at the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory by the president of Ghana.

The AVN project seeks to establish a network of radio telescopes in the African SKA partner countries that would be linked to a global network.

“This means that our continent will form part of a network of scientific instruments that are devoted to the advancement of human progress,” said Kubayi-Ngubane.

Ghana was the first SKA/AVN African partner country to complete the conversion of a redundant communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. 

The 32m antenna has successfully demonstrated that it can operate as a single dish radio telescope and as part of global very long baseline interferometry network.

The Ghanaian Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation collaborated with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory to make the Kutunse Radio Telescope a reality, Kubayi-Ngubane said.

The discussion at this year’s SKA/AVN African Ministerial Forum will focus on advances in respect of the SKA, AVN and other radio astronomy programmes as the combined effort to grow astronomy on the continent gains momentum.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the AVN programme had also enabled partnering countries to roll out two-dish interferometers at universities for teaching and training purposes in Botswana and Mozambique as pilots, about 10-20 computers loaded with software used in radio astronomy in Botswana and Mozambique as pilots, and to provide assistance to university astronomy programmes in partner countries through workshops.

“We have initiated an AVN Human Capacity Development Programme, which has supplemented the SKA Human Capacity Development Programme to increase the number of recipients and training opportunities from the SKA/AVN partner countries.

“The SKA/AVN project is a clear demonstration that as member states of the AU we can work together and co-ordinate science, technology and innovation activities to benefit our people,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.