EU ambassadors welcomed to SKA-Mid telescope site

on 25 April 2024
The SKAO and its South African partners have hosted a major diplomatic visit at the SKA-Mid telescope site in the Karoo, with ambassadors and high commissioners from 17 European countries, the European Union and Australia in attendance.
Group photo of the EU ambassadors and their hosts in front of the under-construction SKA-Mid dish in South Africa.
During the visit on 23 April, ambassadors saw the latest construction activity at the SKA-Mid site, where dish assembly is underway. Credit: SKAO/SARAO

The diplomats saw first-hand the latest construction progress on SKA-Mid, which has accelerated in recent months. The telescope’s first dish is now in an advanced state of assembly ready for the “big lift” of its reflector onto the pedestal, a key milestone as the Observatory progresses through the first stage of its telescopes’ delivery. 

The day began with a mandatory safety briefing and formal welcome addresses, followed by presentations from the SKAO and its collaboration partner the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO). These included updates on engagement with local communities, something the SKAO and SARAO are actively collaborating on and that SARAO has extensive experience in since the development of the 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope, and on the latest progress for SKA-Mid’s sister telescope, SKA-Low in Australia - where the first antennas were deployed in March.

The diplomats visited the on-site data processing centre which currently handles data collected by MeerKAT’s antennas, and will house the supercomputer that will deal with the vast quantities of data that will flow from the 197-dish SKA-Mid array. They also met local artisans, and students who are part of SARAO’s Robotics Schools Programme in the Karoo, which develops skills in science, technology, engineering and maths in schools near the SKA-Mid site.

“I was delighted to experience first-hand the extraordinary and far-reaching work being done at the SKAO. It underscores the strength of the strategic partnership of South Africa and the European Union on Science and Innovation and how through multilateralism and international cooperation we can address the defining challenges of our time,”  said EU Ambassador to South Africa Sandra Kramer.

“The participation of ambassadors and diplomatic representatives from European Union and associated partner countries  speaks of the importance we attach to SKAO. As ‘Team Europe’, we are combining our resources and expertise to support SKAO and ensure that its findings and data translate into societal benefits for South Africa and beyond, through advancements in health, education, just energy transition and industrial application.”

The SKA project has benefited from significant EU funding worth over €50m throughout its 30-year history, from early design studies to recent multinational projects focusing on data management, through helping to progress the governance and policy aspects of the project. The Observatory now counts seven EU member states among its partner countries.

South Africa’s fellow SKAO host countries were represented by the UK High Commissioner Antony Phillipson and Australian High Commissioner Tegan Brink.

“It was a great pleasure to welcome the ambassadors, high commissioners and the EU delegation today,” said SKA-Mid Telescope Director Dr Lindsay Magnus. “Many European countries are contributing to the SKA-Mid telescope and the SKAO more broadly through construction contracts, in software development and in science planning.

“Some of SKA-Mid’s receivers, sub-reflectors, and its feed indexers are among the components being manufactured in European countries, so it’s very special to be able to show the result of those contributions on the ground here in South Africa, and to explain alongside our partners the broader impact the SKA project is having here, and more generally across its partner countries.”

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