Si­lence is golden for the SKA tele­scope

Business Day - Business Law and Tax Review - - BUSINESS LAW & TAX REVIEW - AMANDA ARM­STRONG & WENDY ROSEN­BERG

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.

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