SA-GHANA COL­LAB­O­RA­TION EX­PANDS RADIO ASTRON­OMY SKILLS IN AFRICA

Public Sector Manager - - Feature -

Ghana has be­come the first African coun­try, apart from South Africa, to con­vert a re­dun­dant satel­lite dish into a func­tional radio tele­scope as part of the African Very Long Base­line In­ter­fer­om­e­try (VLBI) Network. The VLBI is a network of radio tele­scopes that will work to­gether as one large in­stru­ment, and will be in­cor­po­rated into the sec­ond phase of the con­struc­tion of the Square Kilome­tre Ar­ray (SKA) – an in­ter­na­tional project to build the world’s largest radio tele­scope.

On 24 Au­gust 2017, the Min­is­ter of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Naledi Pan­dor, and the Pres­i­dent of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, of­fi­cially launched the tele­scope at the Ghana Astron­omy Radio Ob­ser­va­tory in Kun­tunse. The launch co­in­cided with the 4th Min­is­te­rial Meet­ing of the SKA African part­ner coun­tries in Ac­cra.

Speak­ing at the event Min­is­ter Pan­dor said that South Africa wanted the VLBI project to have roots not only in South Africa, but all over Africa.

Min­is­ter Pan­dor said that Ghana’s first radio tele­scope was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone. “It’s long-term sig­nif­i­cance lies in the con­tri­bu­tion it will make to the SKA. The tele­scope will, in due course, form part of the first phase of the VLBI ar­ray, which will en­able it to sup­port even greater sci­ence than it would be able to on its own.”

Pres­i­dent Akufo-Addo said that his coun­try was com­mit­ted to in­creas­ing its in­vest­ment in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion (STI). Ghana will in­crease spend­ing on re­search, de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion from 0.25% in the in­terim to 2.5% of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) in the long-term, recog­nis­ing the role that STI can play in so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Ghana will also es­tab­lish a na­tional sci­ence and in­no­va­tion fund to

“THERE ARE MANY WAYS OF DO­ING SCI­ENCE, BUT MORE AND MORE FRON­TIER SCI­ENCE IN­VOLVES HUGE IN­TER­NA­TIONAL IN­VEST­MENTS OF TIME AND MONEY.”

sup­port re­search and de­vel­op­ment in all re­search and in­no­va­tion in­sti­tu­tions at uni­ver­si­ties and in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.

Pres­i­dent Akufo-Addo said he hoped these mea­sures would make the tran­si­tion from re­search to prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion much eas­ier and faster. He chal­lenged all univer­sity stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly young women, to take sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion se­ri­ously and to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered at the ob­ser­va­tory.

Ghana col­lab­o­rated with the

SKA South Africa (SKA SA) / Har­te­beesthoek Radio Astron­omy Ob­ser­va­tory (HartRAO) group to har­ness the radio astron­omy po­ten­tial of the re­dun­dant satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tion an­tenna at Ku­tunse.

Since 2011, a team of sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers from SKA SA / HartRAO and the Ghana Space Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy In­sti­tute has been work­ing on the astron­omy in­stru­ment up­grade to make it radio-astron­omy ready.

The South African De­part­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co­op­er­a­tion has been fund­ing a large part of the con­ver­sion project through the African Re­nais­sance and In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Fund. The 32-me­tre con­verted telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions an­tenna has al­ready proven to be a suc­cess. The an­tenna un­der­took a com­bi­na­tion of ‘first light’ sci­ence ob­ser­va­tions (the first use of a tele­scope after its con­struc­tion), which in­cluded methanol maser de­tec­tions,

VLBI fringe test­ing and pul­sar ob­ser­va­tions. Achiev­ing these three ob­jec­tives con­firmed that the in­stru­ment can operate as a sin­gle dish radio tele­scope and also as part of the global VLBI network.

Fol­low­ing the ini­tial ‘first light’ ob­ser­va­tions, the re­search teams from Ghana and South Africa, to­gether with other in­ter­na­tional re­search part­ners, con­tinue to do more ob­ser­va­tions and are analysing the data gen­er­ated in or­der to im­prove the tele­scope’s ac­cu­racy for fu­ture ex­per­i­ments.

“There are many ways of do­ing sci­ence, but more and more fron­tier sci­ence in­volves huge in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ments of time and money. SKA is in this cat­e­gory. What holds it all to­gether is a col­lec­tive stead­fast­ness of pur­pose. We are prov­ing that sci­ence knows no bor­ders,” said Min­is­ter Pan­dor.

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