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Square kilometre array decision delayed again

Board may consider joint Oz-South Africa operation

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The board deciding on the location for the Square Kilometer Array has once again delayed choosing between Australia and South Africa as the host nation.

Whether because the two proposed sites are so close as to present a nearly-impossible decision, or whether the political lobbying surrounding the SKA bids is has evenly divided the SKA board, the decision has been put off until May.

In a neutrally-worded statement, the SKA board said after its Schiphol (Netherlands) meeting that the board has “agreed to set up a small scientific working group” to report back in May.

While Australia has been pitching the climatic and radio-quiet superiority of its site, South Africa has been emphasizing the importance of the SKA as a development project.

The board’s statement hints that the opposing arguments may be resolved by accepting both bids, saying “it is desirable to maintain an inclusive approach” to the project, and it is “important to maximize the value from the investments made by both candidate host regions”. The working group has been instructed to “explore possible implementation options that would achieve this”.

Those investments include “pathfinder” builds both in South Africa and Australia – the 36-antenna ASKAP, at Murchison in Western Australia; and the seven-dish KAT-7 array in South Africa’s Karoo region, a precursor to its MeerKAT pathfinder array.

The two countries are also working on the vast computing requirements needed to support the SKA. ®

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