Africa has demonstrated that it can produce world-class science with the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

Located 25 kilometers northwest of the national capital, Accra, the 32-metre antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kuntunse, will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) across the African continent. The SKA AVN partners of South Africa are: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia.

Ghana’s 32-metre antenna is in the spotlight this week as it will be officially launched on Thursday 24 August, during the 4th Ministerial SKA Africa Forum Ministerial Forum. South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, Ghanaian President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Ministers responsible for science in the seven SKA partner countries

 

The Ghana instrument has already shown that it can operate as a single dish radio telescope and as part of the global VLBI network observations. The Ghanaian Ministry of Environment, Science Technology and Innovation (MESTI) collaborated with SKA South Africa and other stakeholders to build the radio astronomy telescope. Ghana, the first of the eight partner countries of the AVN, has been the first country apart of South Africa to successfully complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope.

 

A team of scientists and engineers from SKA SA, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) and the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) have been working together since 2011 on the astronomy instrument upgrade to make it radio-astronomy ready. In 2012, Ghana launched the GSSTI as the vehicle through which to grow its astrophysics programme.

Addressing Ghanaian and South African media on Monday, SKA Head of African Planning, Anita Loos said the instrument proved to be “a solution for Africa by Africans.”

“This has been a fantastic journey. Africans can be the authors of their own chapters in a unique way. This proves to the world that we can do world-class science following the building of KAT 7 and the MeerKAT in South Africa,” said Ms Loots, referring to the construction of the pre-cursors of the SKA and now the conversion of the Ghana dish.

She said skills development that had taken place with the work in Ghana included technical, data processing, engineering and software development skills, among others, empowering students straight from high school to PhD level.

The Director of the GSSTI, Prof Dickson Adomako; also emphasized the human capital development aspect as the most significant achievement of the project. It started out as an initiative training enthusiastic young scientists in Ghana. It has since developed into a project focusing on transferring skills to other African partner countries and recently the institute hosted 60 young students from Kenya.

“This project has come at the right time; at the time when we are trying to understand the world we are living in. We are now able to host astronomers visiting Ghana and we have qualified welders, software developers and mechanical engineers which are all the spinoffs of the project,” said Prof Adomako.

The Director of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), Dr Happy Sithole, announced that they would be collaborating with MESTI to establish a big data training programme, that will assist with processing data generated by the telescope.

“Industry 4.0 means that information and communication technologies should apply intelligence in analysing data to benefit our economies. Astronomy is bringing many and different opportunities and supercomputing is one of the capabilities that Ghana will develop in this regard,” said Dr Sithole.

 

Monday’s briefing came ahead of the 4th Ministerial SKA Africa Forum which comprises ministers from the eight SKA Africa partner countries. It convenes annually to provide strategic and political leadership on the SKA and AVN projects, and on other relevant radio astronomy programmes and initiatives.