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Australia Space Science News

South Africa Wins Science Panel's Backing To Host SKA Telescope 117

Posted by timothy
from the catchy-rhythms dept.
ananyo writes "A scientific panel has narrowly recommended South Africa over Australia as the best site for the proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an enormous US$2.1-billion radio telescope. While the project's member states have yet to make a final decision on where the telescope will go, the odds are now that the African bid will ultimately win out against the joint bid from Australia and New Zealand to host the project. The SKA radio telescope will be made up of some a 3,000 dishes, each 15 metres in diameter. The project will try to answer big questions about the early Universe: how the first elements heavier than helium formed, for example, and how the first galaxies coalesced. The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds — something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."
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South Africa Wins Science Panel's Backing To Host SKA Telescope

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  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:03AM (#39309883) Journal

    I don't have time to read TFA, so please tell us what SA has over Au?

    We are talking about a project that worth BILLIONS, and that the structures (radar and all) must be kept in a place

    I don't mean to be patronizing - but I just can't see how Sa can win over Au in term of safety

    Or is PC --- as in Political Correctness --- an important criteria in choosing Sa over Au?

  • by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:09AM (#39309903) Homepage

    In most areas of South Africa, I would agree with you, but the Carnarvon site is so remote and inhospitable that it is regarded as one of the most radio-quiet places in the world. That combined with a law passed guaranteeing radio quiet in any designated area, such as the site, was part of the attraction.

    Also, the engineers and scientists on our MeerKAT project team have come up with some very interesting technology [slashdot.org] to keep the farmers connected via cellular phones while keeping the site free from spillage. I get a sense that our chaps are "immature" who like to fiddle and innovate. And without the IP issues that plagues the West at the moment.

  • by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:16AM (#39309921) Homepage
    • Cheaper construction costs due to the site being less remote.
    • Lower fiber-optic and power grid installation costs for the same reason.
    • Better government support, SA government is paying some infrastructure costs like the fiber optics and is legally guaranteeing radio-quiet.
    • Currently better back-haul undersea cables. 5 cables in two geographically redundant sets (west and east coasts) with multi-terabit capacity with 40Gbps lambda capability will be in place.
    • Innovative telescope and equipment design being done by the South Africans is lowering the per-telescope cost significantly as well.

    Think that covers it.

  • by james.mcarthur (154849) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:33AM (#39309985)
    "I don't mean to be patronizing - but I just can't see how Sa can win over Au in term of safety"

    I think its more likely Australia's poor record at developing and capitalising on high-tech R&D.

    Australia doesn't do high-tech. Look at Government policy for the last 20 years. Look at which companies in Oz actually do R&D. The poster child for Australian R&D is the CSIRO, and really they're the poster child because there is no-one else.

    Then there is our Universities that are churning out business-types and lawyers but fewer and fewer scientists. So even if we wanted to start doing anything remotely high-tech, we don't have the people to do it - we'd need to import them. And there is a madness around these parts about letting immigrants into the country, fanned by the right-wing Opposition.

    This isn't meant to be dismissive of the Australian proposal; it was very good and by all accounts so was the SA one. The plans for the supporting infrastructure was very impressive. But Australia has a reputation of only being interested in what we can dig out of the ground, not what we can use our brains for.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 10, 2012 @03:57AM (#39310079)

    Better government support, SA government is paying some infrastructure costs like the fiber optics and is legally guaranteeing radio-quiet.

    These points actually weigh in favour of the Australian bid: their National Broadband Network project ($40b of government-funded network infrastructure development) is being run out to Geraldton (closest town to the prospective SKA site). Both countries are legally guaranteeing radio-quiet zones - but, to be honest, I'd expect the legal enforcement environment in Australia to be more reliable than that in South Africa.

    You missed one other point in favour of South Africa: higher altitude, which is important at higher radio frequencies. Although at lower frequencies, altitude doesn't make any difference, and the limiting atmospheric factor is the stability of the ionosphere (which is better at the Australian site).

    Innovative telescope and equipment design being done by the South Africans is lowering the per-telescope cost significantly as well.

    There's a lot of technology development going on in both countries. The South African pathfinder telescope (MeerKAT) is using Gregorian offset antennas, produced via some new process (hydroforming, I think), but the radio receivers are relatively conventional. The Australian pathfinder telescope (ASKAP) is using relatively conventional antennas, but has some new Phased Array Feed receivers which allow it to see 30x as much of the sky at one time. I think the new Australian receivers are potentially more game-changing, but riskier: the first set had unexpectedly high noise across half of their frequency band, which they're working on fixing with the second batch.

  • Re:Project security (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 10, 2012 @04:42AM (#39310241)

    Just going down the list of countries associated with South Africa's bid:

    • Namibia: stable since its war of independence (from South Africa) in 1990.
    • Botswana: stable since independence in 1966.
    • Mozambique: civil war ended in 1992.
    • Ghana: after a coup, democracy restored in 1992.
    • Kenya: not very democratic in the 80s and 90s, but hasn't had a serious coup attempt since 1992.
    • Madagascar: revolution in 2009, but prior to that was stable from 1992.
    • Zambia: most recent revolution in 1991.
    • South Africa: apartheid overthrown in 1994

    Compared with:

    • Australia: stable since (peaceful) independence in 1901.
    • New Zealand: self-governing in 1856; stable since then.

    The SKA is intended to operate for 50 years. The fact that only one African SKA country has had a revolution in the last 18 years is promising - but still, I'd expect a couple more (if not South Africa itself) to be unstable during that time. Conversely, it would be surprising if Australia or New Zealand experienced political instability on that level.

  • by CapOblivious2010 (1731402) on Saturday March 10, 2012 @10:43AM (#39311365)

    South Africa is a crappy shithole in Africa run by and inhabited mainly by the niggers.

    I'm serious by the way.....it's a stupid idea.

    Then why do you undermine your argument by using words like "niggers"? It doesn't make your argument any stronger; it just makes you look like a moron. Since you're too stupid to see that, people are going to assume you're also too stupid to analyze the actual pros/cons of the situation.

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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