Global satellite project to contribute to Zambian skills development – Minister Kaingu

PRETORIA – Thursday, 26th March, 2015 – ZAMBIAN scientists and researchers will have an opportunity to acquire latest expertise from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) mega project being implemented in partnership with eight other African countries.

Minister of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education, Dr. Michael Kaingu made the observation at the Second Ministerial Meeting of the SKA Africa Partner Countries which closed in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Dr. Kaingu said the SKA project will contribute to human capital development through training in cutting-edge technology that will be required during the construction process and manning of what will be the world’s largest radio telescope.

Zambia, like other participating countries in Africa, will send young scientists to South Africa for training so that they are equipped with the requisite skills to effectively participate in the project.

L -R - South African Minister of Science and Technology, Ms. Naledi Pandor, Madagascar Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Professor Rasoazananera Marie Monique and Zambian Minister of Education, Dr. Michael Kaingu at the 2nd Ministerial SKA meeting in Pretoria on 25th March, 2015.
L -R – South African Minister of Science and Technology, Ms. Naledi Pandor, Madagascar Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Professor Rasoazananera Marie Monique and Zambian Minister of Education, Dr. Michael Kaingu at the 2nd Ministerial SKA meeting in Pretoria on 25th March, 2015.

The minister said he will galvanise universities in Zambia and other stakeholders such as the Zambia Telecommunications Company (ZAMTEL) and Zambia Information and Technology Authority (ZICTA) so that they could participate in sending scientists to South Africa.

“This project is important to Africa as it will help our researchers with data especially for those countries with shortages of academic staff,” Dr. Kaingu said.

Dr. Kaingu said he will be circulating the outcomes of the meeting to Cabinet for further discussion.

In line with the programme being executed under the SKA project, each partner will develop individual satellite dishes which will be brought onto one network connecting to a central satellite dish.

Dr. Kaingu disclosed that Zambia has already started working on this and has since identified a 25 hectare piece of land in North-Western province on which the satellite dish will be built. He said work to convert the Mwembeshi satellite dish into a radio astronomy facility was also progressing well. The dish has to undergo this conversion for it to be suitable for the uses.

Meanwhile, the three-day meeting resulted in the adoption of a draft memorandum of understanding for institutionalising cooperation in radio astronomy which sets out principles for cooperation on the SKA and AVN projects upon which in-country consultations could begin. The document will be signed at the next meeting of ministers in 2016 after it is discussed by partner countries within their governments.

AVN stands for African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network, which entails an array of radio telescopes throughout Africa as an extension of the existing global Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (VLBI).

This was contained in the resolutions arrived at by representatives from the governments of Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Namibia at the closure of the meeting. Zambia was represented by Dr. Kaingu, Dr. Nkanza and Zambia’s Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. Joe Kaunda.

The parties will ensure that such in-country consultation was concluded by November, 2015 in time for tabling at the next SKA African Working Group meeting and thereafter for signing by the respective Ministers of the SKA Africa partner countries by March, 2016.

It was agreed that the partners will begin engagements with the African Union Commission on the development of the continental AVN initiative, led by South Africa.

The parties further approved the Readiness Strategy and Plan of Action, which focuses on, among others; governance of the African SKA consortium; communications, outreach and dissemination; human capital development and institutional capacity building; Big Data Africa Programme, and strategic partnerships and funding resources.

According to the agreed approach to organising and undertaking the various activities in the plan of action, South Africa will lead in drafting the terms of reference and the legal instruments identified for formalising the governance structures and commitments while Ghana will lead in drafting the communications and the regional awareness strategies. Other partners will nominate representatives to work with Ghana.

On the human and institutional capacity development initiatives, the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa will develop a questionnaire to ascertain baseline human capital information within SKA African partner countries. South Africa will also work with each SKA partner country to identify and assist in establishing the appropriate institutional structure to host and anchor the AVN and SKA projects.

The project to build the telescope is managed by the international SKA organisation, which currently comprises 10 countries – Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, and the UK. South Africa is taking the leading role on this Africa partnership

An array of dish receptors will extend into eight African countries from a central core region near Carnarvon, South Africa. A further array of mid-frequency aperture arrays will be built in the Karoo. A smaller array of dish receptors and an array of low frequency aperture arrays will be located in western Australia. On completion, the total signal-collecting area of all the dishes, about 3 000 of them, will add up to a square kilometre.

Issued by:

Nicky Shabolyo

Press Secretary – Zambia High Commission – PRETORIA