Germany pulls out of South African space telescope

Auf wiedersehen, German science (and money), we won’t be seeing you in the Northern Cape after all. The country’s secretary of state for science has written to the organisation responsible for overseeing the construction of the ambitious Square Kilometre Array radio telescope to say that the country intends not to renew its commitment to the project when current agreements run out in a year’s time.

The SKA Organisation (SKAO)  has released a statement saying that it regrets Germany’s decision, but that it’s unlikely to affect the project in either the short or long term. According to the statement, Germany’s decision to leave is purely financial and based on budgetary cutbacks at home – so it will only have itself to blame when it loses out on what the SKAO (somewhat self-aggrandisingly) calls “the world’s next big science project after the Large Hadron Collider”.

“German industry will be most affected by this decision,” says the statement by SKAO, “As it will no longer be in a position to bid for major engineering contracts to be awarded for construction of the SKA. In addition… the ability of the German science community to use the telescope will be compromised.”

The statement goes on to say that it hopes Germany will change its mind over the next 12 months.

The SKA itself is an enormously important project for South African science, and the decision to build one half of the radio telescope grid here (the other is in Australia) has had a big effect on research in the field. The South African SKA base, which is already being built, will eventually consist of thousands of antennas in various sites around the country. Eight nearby countries will also host antennas. The main site, which will eventually be home to 64 large dish antennas collectively known as Meerkat, is already being used for teaching local schoolchildren about space science.

Once complete, SKA’s imaging resolution will be around 50 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope and will require enormous computational power to crunch the data recorded.

[Image – SKA South Africa]


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