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Africa issues—and withdraws—statement hinting it has won SKA telescope

The African countries bidding to host the Square Kilometre Array telescope issued a statement this morning suggesting that they are confident that they have won the technical assessment comparing their bid with the rival bid from Australia. But within hours, the statement was taken down from the organisation’s website.

The statement (see PDF below), issued by African ambassadors meeting today (22 February) in Beijing, called on the SKA organization to build the telescope “on the site recommended by the independent SKA Site Advisory Committee”. That advice has already been issued, but has not yet been made public. The statement wording strongly infers that the ambassadors, at least, think the South Africa-led group has won the recommendation of the site committee.

In the withdrawn statement, Derek Hanekom, South African deputy minister of science and technology, said: “Whether the evaluation favours the bid of Africa, or that of Australia/New Zealand, the evaluation outcome must be respected, to move the science forward through SKA. South Africa is committed to abiding by the evaluation outcome.”

However by 2pm GMT today, the statement had been taken down. The site’s only current comment is a bland statement from Colin Greenwood, the SKA company secretary, to the effect that the committee’s advice will be received in “early-mid February” and that while there is “no fixed timeline for site decision, it is reasonable to expect the decision to be made sometime in March-April 2012”.

As Research Europe Today went online, the SKA Africa statement was still accessible on the PR Inside website (see link below).

A group of nine African countries is competing against Australia and New Zealand to host the €1-billion radio telescope. The site selection committee’s advice is supposed to stay confidential until March or April (see RE 9 Feb 12 via link below).

Until then, both sides could try to influence the project’s funders and decision-makers.

Australia’s science minister Chris Evans has scheduled meetings in February and March with ministers from China, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands to promote the country’s assets for hosting the SKA (see RET 3863 via link below).

African ambassadors endorsed a joint statement at a meeting hosted by the South African Embassy in Beijing on 22 February.