Local industry to benefit more from SKA construction

The construction of mega science and technology projects on South African soil has ensured the growth of high-end local technology industries. The construction of MeerKAT, the precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has sprouted new industries that is driving job creation.

The MeerKAT is being constructed on a site adjacent to the SKA site in the Northern Cape as a precursor to the SKA-1. It will consist of an array of 64 dishes and will be by far the most powerful radio telescope in the world, prior to the SKA.

Delivering the State of the Nation Address in Parliament on Thursday evening, President Jacob Zuma welcomed the implementation by the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) of its technology localisation strategy, which involves the development of high-end electronics and mechanical systems locally for the MeerKAT telescope.

The President said the technology localisation strategy has ensured that the R2 billion MeerKAT telescope was constructed with 75% local content.

“This has led to job creation in the Northern Cape and diversification of the economy through the creation of artisan and maintenance jobs, and the promotion of science as a career of choice,” said President Zuma.

The President also noted good progress being made in growing the readiness to host SKA-2 in SKA African partner countries, which include Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

South Africa is assisting with the human capital development initiatives in those countries, with a number of astronomers from those countries having received training here. For example, the designated manager of the Ghana Observatory will be graduating soon in Astronomy studies from here. In addition, big data capabilities and resources are being provided to the partner countries, like setting up their telescopes and observatories.

To this end, SKA SA has a growing intellectual property register and has begun the commercialisation process for four technologies, namely, the SKA Reconfigurable Architecture Board (SKARAB), the Real-time Transient Analyser (RTA), IRONHIVE (a robust, high speed, low cost high performance computing solution,and DSS (a robust, low cost data storage solution).

SKA SA has since invited local industry and institutions with appropriate existing expertise and interest to participate in the SKA Pre-Construction Design Phase, withR55 million awarded to 14 SMMEs through the SKA SA Financial Assistance Programmes to develop skills and expertise in advanced technologies.

“The programme will help develop their international competiveness and increase prospects of larger benefits to South Africa.,” said the Department.

In addition, Big Data is seen as the area with the largest potential for wider benefit from South Africa’s involvement in the MeerKAT and SKA. The Inter-University Centre for Data Intensive Astrophysics (IDIA) has been established at several universities and they've been invited to become associate member.

This is to focus on enabling SA scientists to be globally competitive in this new era of data intensive research. An initial focus will be on providing support for the MeerKAT large survey projects.

The DST is also investing heavily in other parts of South Africa’s cyberinfrastructure, like the South African National Research Network (SANReN) and the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC).

The SKA is a global project in which South Africa is one of the members of the SKA Organisation, among nine other member countries, which include the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, China, India, Sweden, Canada and New Zealand.

When completed the SKA will be one the world’s largest radio telescope hoped to discover the origins of the universe.


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