Update on Square Kilometre Array Project
The four distinct radio telescopes were the Multi-frequency Interferometry Telescope for Radio, the Karoo Array Telescope [KAT-7] and MeerKAT, the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network [AVN], and the Square Kilometre Array.
The pathfinder to the Square Kilometre Array was the MeerKAT. Construction of the 64 MeerKAT dishes would commence in 2013 and it was planned to have the first twenty dishes by 2015, with full completion expected about 2016. Even although the MeerKAT was in the design phase and was going into construction there was huge interest from the international community in terms of using the dish and the first five years of operation of the dish had already been allocated.
Other countries had many observatories but
One of the success factors of the Square Kilometre Array was the huge drive for scholarships for postgraduate students. Whereas in 2003 the total number of astronomers in
In September last year
In terms of the decision process, the documents were submitted in September, and the report and recommendations of the Square Kilometre Array Site Advisory Committee were supposed to have been concluded by 7 February. The report would be verified by the Square Kilometre Array Siting Group and then submitted to the Board of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation, which was planned for 22 February. If the Board was happy with the report they would then send it to the member countries. There would be a meeting of Square Kilometre Array members, excluding the candidates, on 4 April. The four countries would convene, look at the report, and if the report were clear-cut as to which bid won, a decision would be announced on 4 April. If there was no clear cut decision between
International study tour to
The Committee was supposed to have undertaken a study tour to
The Chairperson welcomed two new Members, Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) and Dr M van Dyk (DA).
The Chairperson had had discussions with the Minister on progress of the bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) while in attendance at the World Science Forum.
Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project: Department Update
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General, Department of Science and Technology (DST) said the first part of the presentation would give an update on the seven dishes that were constructed in Carnarvon, the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT-7), and then the initiatives that were happening in the countries that partnered South Africa in the bid – focusing on Mauritius, Mozambique, and Ghana. The presentation would then report on progress on the extension of the KAT-7 MeerKAT where it was hoped to build approximately 64 dishes in Carnarvon, and would end with the process towards the decision as to which country between Australia/New Zealand and
Dr Val Munsami, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Research, Development and Innovation, DST, said that the project was working on the Multi-frequency Interferometry Telescope for Radio (MITRA) telescope in collaboration with Mauritius; the KAT-7, which led to the MeerKAT; the African Very Large Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network in partnership with African countries; the international lobbying efforts in terms of support for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA); and the process towards a site decision.
The Multi-frequency Interferometry Telescope for Radio (MITRA) was configured to work on a broad electromagnetic spectrum on a low frequency and the partner was the Durban University of Technology. It was through that programme that the Department looked at training some of the technicians. The Durban University of Technology had also installed a dish that was linked to the dish in
The Karoo Array Telescope (KAT-7) would be moved out into the MeerKAT, although the design was slightly different. Essentially the KAT-7 was a seven-dish array that was already installed in the
Radio astronomy observatories throughout the world were all connected to one another. The African VLBI Network (AVN) was a very large baseline so large baselines between the telescopes would give a better resolving point. Other countries had many observatories but
R500 000 was provided for a training telescope in partnership with
One of the success factors of the SKA was the huge drive for scholarships for postgraduate students. The consequence of that was that whereas in 2003 the total number of astronomers in
Dr Munsami turned to the African SKA bid.
In terms of international lobbying, the SKA bid was featured in the African Union agenda and a 2012
The Minister had led a series of international lobbying and in addition the Deputy Minister took a trip to
In terms of mobilising EU support, there was a declaration around radio astronomy and in order for that declaration to take effect a vote of at least 51% of the European Parliament in favour, which equated to 378 signatures, was required. There were currently 299 signatures and if it reached 300 (one more vote)
Dr Munsami turned to the site decision. The SKA Organisation was established as a legal entity in November 2011 and registered as a non-profit private company limited by guarantee under British law. Member countries were
Looking at the SKA decision process, the documents were submitted in September. The report and recommendations of the SKA Site Advisory Committee (SSAC) were supposed to have been concluded by 7 February. The report would be verified by the SKA Siting Group (SSG) and then submitted to the Board of the SKA Organisation, which was planned for 22 February. If the Board was happy with the report it would then send it to the member countries. There would be a meeting of SKA members, excluding the candidates, on 4 April. The four countries would convene, look at the report, and if the report were clear-cut as to which bid won, a decision would be announced on 4 April. If there was no clear cut decision between
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the presentation.
Dr Mjwara added that the SKA was not formally on the agenda of the Carnegie meeting that was held in November, but the meeting was used to indicate the competency that already existed in
On the declaration for the EU,
The Chairperson found the presentation very interesting, especially as he had interacted with the SKA founding board members; and also the four countries that would make the decision on 4 April. The support from the EU in terms of radio astronomy was also interesting. There was much interest in the
Dr Mjwara said the Department would be happy to brief Parliament.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked for clarification on the five research chairs; only three universities were mentioned –
Dr Mjwara responded that they were the
Ms Dunjwa said Dr Munsami had referred to the ‘noise’ that was coming from
Dr Mjwara responded that the way the bid was handled the Department should continue to focus on what it was doing well. There was a range of journalists and people from
Ms Dunjwa noted that three factors would be considered for the SKA. Would the Committee be informed of the cost factor in due course?
Dr Mjwara explained that the third factor was the cost. The site chosen in
Ms Dunjwa was excited and very proud that international scientists were interested in the South African SKA.
She was concerned as to whether the community in the proximity of Carnarvon were informed of what would happen and the impact it would have on their lives.
Dr Mjwara responded that a forum met monthly to provide up to date information and get a sense from the people in the Carnarvon area. They received briefings on progress on the project and the briefings were used as a forum for them to raise specific issues. The Department had been working with the schools in the area and last year was the launch of the information technology (IT) infrastructure to assist learners to do maths and science. The Department had engaged with the farmers and had taken into account all the issues they had raised, especially around the need to keep the reserve radio silent. The Department was also looking at setting up an information and communications technology (ICT) microelectronics hub in the
The Chairperson said that there would be a conference on 26 March 2012 that would focus on children as young as four years being brought into astroscience; people from Sutherland and SAAO would be participating in that conference.
Dr Mjwara said he would get the details of the
Another important issue Ms Dunjwa raised was the cost factor. Decision-making was sensitive and highly technical. The Department should be able to estimate the costs by this stage.
Dr Mjwara explained that the Department would be following up the process that was followed by the SKA Siting Advisory Committee and would look for flaws in the processes that had been followed. There would be a teleconference on 22 February as to how the SKA Siting Advisory Committee went through the bid, how they analysed the information and how they arrived at a recommendation on the technical aspects and the recommendation on the scientific aspects. He thought the process proposed so far had been fairly transparent and would pick up on any issue that may be flawed.
Ms P Mocumi (ANC) was also interested as to what extent the stakeholders in the
Ms Mocumi noted that two MSc and two PhD students from
The Chairperson agreed that one could study in any language anywhere in the world; people could be trained in language courses. The Committee had experience where, on the SKA development, initially it had seemed that South Africans were excluded from the project in favour of people from other African countries. He was concerned that perhaps now language was being used as an excuse to exclude South Africans from getting that training.
Dr Munsami added that
Ms Mocumi asked which African universities had started astronomy programmes; perhaps South African students could be sent there? In terms of uptake the preference was for South African students because the money came from the South African fiscus. If there were no full uptake it would then look at other African partners. South African students who applied would be supported through the South African bursary scheme. The partnership with
Dr Mjwara was aware that the
Ms S Plaatjie (COPE) appreciated the progress made thus far and the effort put in by the team.
Local communities were the best vehicles for marketing strategy, such as caps and T-shirts.
Dr Mjwara noted the comment of getting local communities involved in the marketing.
Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) was also interested in the five research chairs and asked whether these included the new research chairs announced by the Minister on Tuesday?
Dr Mjwara responded that the five research chairs were announced last year and three of the universities had already filled those positions.
Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked what employment opportunities would be created through the project?
Dr Munsami responded that the KAT-7 created about 100 employment opportunities but they were not sustainable jobs. About 400 employment opportunities were targeted for the MeerKAT, of which some would be sustainable and others not. If
Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked why the
Dr Mjwara responded that the
Dr Munsami added that the
The Chairperson recalled that there had been a briefing by a lady from the
Dr Kloppers-Lourens noted that under certain circumstances there might not be a clear-cut decision – what circumstances were they?
Dr Mjwara responded that he did not know but the Department was hoping that there would be a clear-cut decision. If there were a split it could involve a second round of voting. The proposal roughly was in order for one country to have a clear cut decision there must be 75% support for the project, if that 75% did not happen the board might then engage with the bidding countries on a ‘horse premium’ to break the deadlock. A ‘horse premium’ meant that
Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked whether there was a possibility of both countries being responsible?
Dr Mjwara said he did not know.
The Chairperson understood that the
Dr Mjwara confirmed that the project office was located in the
The Department had been engaging with
The Chairperson asked to check whether the Board Chairperson was the John Womersley who used to be Head of the South African Institute of Engineers? He could have interests in
Ms Dunjwa asked why the project office was in the
The Chairperson was also interested; the office was placed there before the bid, who decided that and why?
Dr Munsami reminded Members that, whoever won the bid, it would not become an African or Australian project; it remained an international project. The office was resourced by international staff; it just happened to be based in the
The Chairperson still had a problem that. He had recently attended the World Science Forum and the founding boards of SKA were not in the
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the presentation.
International study tour to
The Committee was supposed to have undertaken a study tour to
The Chairperson was particularly concerned that when at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 in
It was especially disturbing that many committees that had not even applied were allowed to go on visits, including those that had no money. Mr C Frolick (ANC) had said the Committee could not go to two places unless they were adjacent to each other, yet committees had visited places in separate areas. The Chairperson had met with other committees that were in the same situation. It was a matter that undermined the work of Parliament and had to be challenged.
The Chairperson had met with the Speaker and told him that the situation was unacceptable to Parliament. The Speaker was not able to assist as nothing was in writing. The House Chair and the Presiding Officer asked the Chairperson to put it in writing, but the Chairperson would wait until the Committee had met. It was a matter that needed to be raised in caucus. Committees were not being treated equally.
Ms Mocumi was just as frustrated, having only learnt a week before the Committee was due to leave. The Speaker had requested a letter but it would be better to request a meeting with the people who had cancelled the trip and had not even put it in writing. The Committee had applied for a study tour in 2010 and were told that it should rather undertake it in 2011. The Committee even went to the House Chair’s office to ensure that the trip was approved and finalised.
The Chairperson interjected that that a study tour had been put on hold because of elections; the Committee was in a cluster that was due for 2012, and the House Chair had said those that were ready must go. The Researcher and the Department were engaged and the Committee was briefed by the Department of International Relations.
Ms Mocumi agreed, the tour was not decided on the spur of the moment; a lot of effort was put into it. The country of destination was informed and she wondered whether it was informed that the Committee was no longer going. The Committee should demand a meeting; it was about Parliament work. It might be understood if there were no committees that undertook study tours. The officials did not even have the courtesy of putting the message in writing. It was a serious matter.
Ms Dunjwa believed it was for the House Chair to explain, it was important to hear from the person who had authority. It was a matter that affected the issue of trust. To hear something so important telephonically from an official was not acceptable and the matter must be addressed once and for all. She proposed that the Committee undertake the trip before June.
Dr Kloppers-Lourens was a Member of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training and that Committee had experienced the same problem. That committee was scheduled to go to
Ms Plaatjie supported meeting with the House Chair because, if it were a matter of funds, that should have been checked before approval was granted.
The Chairperson supported meeting with the House Chair and the Speaker; he had discussed the matter with the Executive. It was also serious that the Committee had not been informed of the request from the Committee on Science and Technology from
It was agreed that a delegation approach the Office of the Speaker to request an appointment so that that Speaker be made aware of the situation.
The Chairperson said that probably Committee time could be made for that to take place next week.
Dr Kloppers-Lourens felt it was important to get the backing of the Minister or the Deputy Minister and that they be invited to be present.
The Chairman agreed; once a date was verified the Minister would be invited. The points for discussion must also be clearly set up on the agenda. Those issues were the trip to
Ms Dunjwa felt the two items would be sufficient, but suggested adding the whole issue of oversight both locally and internationally. The Committee was not being treated correctly and that had to be corrected.
The Chairperson was also concerned about the information that other committees had been allowed to go overseas without even having complied.
Dr Kloppers-Lourens said that when she was deployed to the Committee she was assured that it was a very important committee, particularly around the knowledge economic environment; somebody should brief the Committee on its role around that theme of Parliament. It seemed that everyone was in the dark about that.
The Chairperson objected. The Committee had Vision 18; there was even Vision 2015 that supported the vision to change
Ms Shanaaz Isaacs (Committee Secretary) briefed the Committee. A draft programme would be circulated. It basically stemmed from a meeting last year when Members listed the six grand challenges and spread it over weeks so that when it came to strategic plans and budgets could give overview schemes. The draft programme could always be updated.
The meeting was adjourned.
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