Go back

Australia and South Africa make final telescope bids

Two competing consortia presented their final bids for the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project to an expert committee in London on 8 December.

The bids will be made to the SKA site advisory committee, a panel of independent experts appointed to assess the suitability of the two competing sites.

The SKA Organisation, a body of representatives from seven countries supporting the project, is expected to make a final decision in March 2012.

Both consortia say they have good scientific cases for hosting the telescope: radio-quiet locations with good views of the southern sky. They also both have strong government backing and strong teams of astronomers.

The South African consortium says cheap local infrastructure gives its bid the edge. According to Bernie Faranoff, who heads the bid, electricity, optical fibres and roads are cheaper to produce and build in South Africa.

But Kim Carr, Australia’s innovation minister, told a news conference on 1 December, “We argue that the Australian bid is stronger on the science because of our radio-quiet core zone.”

The Square Kilometre Array is expected to cost €1.5 billion to build, and would consist of more than 3,000 antennas some 5,500 kilometres apart.

Once established, its planners say, the SKA will be 10,000 times more powerful than any existing telescope and is expected to answer questions about the origins of the universe.

The SKA Organisation is made up of representatives from research agencies and governments in Australia, China, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK. The organisation will invest €69 million in the SKA project between now and the start of its construction, due in 2016.