Silence is golden for the SKA telescope
AFTER the jubilation of being chosen as the primary country hosting the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, SA is wasting no time putting in place the regulatory framework for the project.
Having assisted the Department of Science and Technology to prepare the legal aspects of SA’s bid to host the SKA, we are now creating the regulatory framework for the telescope, the most important aspect of which is creating radio-quiet zones so that radio waves can be received from space without interference.
Nothing quite like this has been done before and the SKA is a com- pletely different telescope from anything the world has seen to date.
Apart from being the biggest telescope yet, what makes the SKA unique is that it will rely on radio frequency spectrum received by hundreds of receivers/arrays dotted across its different sites. The data received will be consolidated and made available to astronomers and other scientists all over the world through fibre-optic links.
Radio-quiet zones will be critical for the effective functioning of the telescope and its receivers. Any interference could affect the working of the telescope and its ability to receive spectrum coming from other planets and stars fundamentally.
One of the most important aspects of creating the regulatory framework, that falls under the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007 is to ensure that radio-quiet zones are achieved within the ambit of the South African Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.
The question of rights comes into play when there are people who own land or who live or work in the areas demarcated for the SKA receivers, which will be located primarily at sites around Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.
The land that will be the core area is where the most important combination of receivers will be located and where radio-quiet conditions will be most critical. The government bought this land some time ago in preparation for the SKA project.
Although the core area is essentially unoccupied, the area surrounding it (known as the central areas) is populated, albeit not densely, and so is the area around that (called the coordinated areas).
The central areas, which we are addressing now, will not be as strictly regulated as the core area, but it is still extremely important to minimise spectrum interference. It will be important to ensure that the rights of landowners and users in those areas are taken into account. With this in mind, interested parties will be invited to make representations.
Further public consultations will take place down the line when the time comes to draft the regulations for the co-ordinated areas — the least regulated of the three areas.
For those of us at Werksmans who’ve been involved in this it is amazing to be part of a project that will benefit astronomers and scientists all over the world and hopefully lead to a quantum leap in space discoveries.