South Africa, 31 October 2013: Seven Ghanaians arrived in South Africa last week to begin training on the independent operation and maintenance of radio telescopes in Africa. Using a miniature version of a radio telescope, they will learn how to design, build, operate and maintain an African telescope network that will support the scientific and technical activities of the SKA. The training will give them technical skills that are widely applicable, even outside radio astronomy.
The seven Ghanaians represent the first technical team from Africa to receive training as part of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network (AVN) programme.
The aim of the programme is to create a network of radio telescopes among the SKA SA African partner countries: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.
"The training programme marks the start of a programme to strengthen African technical capability," said the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Adv Michael Masutha.
"Involving the African partner countries in the AVN training programme is a means of ensuring that Africa is capacitated and ready for hosting the SKA."
The Deputy Minister was speaking ahead of the programme's launch at a media event at the MeerKAT headquarters in Pinelands, in Cape Town on 25 October.
Adv Masutha said the training project would establish strong collaborative Africa-Europe networks in science and engineering and would deliver practical training and hands-on experiences that would enthuse a new generation of scientists and engineers on the continent.
Initially, the VLBI project will focus on the conversion of large redundant or unused telecommunication antennas into the AVN, and on training local teams to operate the new observatories. Antenna conversions for the AVN have already started in Ghana and are under investigation in Kenya; similar projects are foreseen in Zambia and eventually Madagascar. New telescopes are intended to be built in Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Mozambique.
"We hope that up to 70 individuals from the eight SKA partner countries could be trained in the same way over the next few years," says Anita Loots, associate director at SKA SA.
"The training programme itself is a world first," added Loots. "It is a combination of engineering and scientific skills development across disciplines, which will equip teams with a thorough understanding of their own instruments."
"These are the first steps towards preparing our African partners to manage SKA telescope stations," says Loots. "We are working together to maximise the benefits of participating in SKA activities for Africa as a whole, as well as the sustainability of radio astronomy in the region."
The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform is a stakeholder initiative seeking to develop African-European cooperation initiatives to support programmes such as the training programme for the Ghanaian scientists and engineers. MEP Vittorio Prodi, speaking at a recent AERAP Diplomatic Networking Event, said: “These cooperation initiatives in radio astronomy are an opportunity to have a true and real partnership between Africa and Europe.”
Since the European Parliament’s adoption of Written Declaration 45/2011 on “Science Capacity Building in Africa: promoting European-African radio astronomy partnerships” in March of 2012 which led to the establishment of AERAP in May of 2012, AERAP has organised several stakeholder consultations and workshops to advance radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe.
These facilitated networking between potential partners and laid the ground for the AERAP Framework Programme for Cooperation which proposes a multitude of African-European radio astronomy projects. It is the intention that these projects will be realized in the framework of funding instruments available to support cooperation under the joint Africa-EU Strategy.
The overall goal of AERAP is to advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge and stimulate competitiveness across both continents.
Stakeholders have met to discuss the implementation of the AERAP Framework Programme for Cooperation at workshops held in Brussels and Cape Town this year. A third meeting will be held on 4 and 5 November 2013 in Brussels.
This meeting will have a dual focus. Firstly, the workshop will consider and elaborate the first AERAP Implementation Plan. This plan will detail in an operational manner activities which are mature for support in order to implement selected key actions identified in the AERAP Framework Programme for Cooperation.
The second objective of the workshop will be to inform the AERAP community of the different funding opportunities which will become available during coming months. The goal is to optimally prepare the AERAP community for relevant funding opportunities which will become accessible in 2014.
Further information can be found here: http://www.aerap.org/event.php?id=22
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The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP)
AERAP is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, through the adoption of the Written Declaration 45/2011, and of the Heads of State of the African Union, through their decision “Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII”, for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa—EU cooperation. AERAP is a new stakeholder forum of industry, academia and the public sector established to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe. The overall goals of the platform are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents. The platform will also enable effective dialogue to build a shared vision for international cooperation in radio astronomy.
Further information on AERAP: www.aerap.org
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
SKA is a global science and engineering project led by the SKA Organisation, a not-for-profit company with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how galaxies have evolved since then, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth.
Thousands of linked radio wave receptors will be located in Australia and in Southern Africa. Combining the signals from the antennas in each region will create a telescope with a collecting area equivalent to a dish with an area of about one square kilometre.
Members of the SKA Organisation are Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, Sweden and United Kingdom. India is an associate member.
For further information: please contact William Garnier, Chief Communications Officer of the SKA Organisation (email@example.com)
or visit the website of the SKA Organisation: www.skatelescope.org
VLBI network to be deployed across Africa
An African radio telescope network would fill in a major gap in the global VLBI network and that is what South Africa and its SKA partner countries are working towards. Such a network will also boost engineering and science skills development across the continent.
There are at least 26 satellite ground segment dishes, possibly more, spread out over Africa which could become a part of this new VLBI network.
Further information: http://www.ska.ac.za/newsletter/issues/14/12.php