Construction on phase one of the SKA - which on completion will be the world's biggest radio telescope - is set to start in 2018, centred on a site about 90km north-west of Carnarvon.

Pretoria - South African astronomers are excited about the prospect of being part of research on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, an official said in Pretoria on Monday.

Head of astronomy at the National Research Foundation, Nithaya Chetty, said there would be no room for mediocrity around the project.

“As you can imagine, there has been a lot of euphoria at this meeting. Scientific leadership and everybody else is euphoric at what this (the hosting of the SKA) means for South Africa,” he said.

Astronomers and academics from across South Africa held a two-day summit, which ended on Monday, at the University of Pretoria.

“This is actually the first major gathering of astronomers in South Africa after the SKA decision was made in May. This is a substantial meeting involving government and astronomers.”

Chetty said the astronomy sector was receiving good government support.

“The support has been led right from the top, from (Science and Technology) Minister Naledi Pandor. We are enjoying unprecedented and excellent support from the government,” said Chetty.

On Sunday, department of science and technology deputy director-general Thomas Auf der Heyde said a number of benefits were materialising from the selection of South Africa to host the SKA. In May, SKA board chairman John Womersley announced at a press conference at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, that South Africa would share the project with Australia. - Sapa