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SA locks in deal to establish SKA Observatory

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The seven ministers of the founding member-countries after signing the treaty to establish the Square Kilometre Array Observatory.
The seven ministers of the founding member-countries after signing the treaty to establish the Square Kilometre Array Observatory.

After four years of negotiations, the South African government has concluded the process that will see the establishment of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO).

This is according to the Department of Science and Technology, which revealed yesterday that the country has signed an international treaty to set up the SKAO.

Dubbed the 'Rome Convention', the treaty, signed in Italy by science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, establishes the SKAO as the second intergovernmental organisation dedicated to astronomy in the world.

South Africa is among the seven countries (including Australia, China, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and the UK) that signed the treaty. It will ensure strong governance of the SKA project, notes the department.

"South Africa's signature on the establishment of the SKAO as an intergovernmental legal entity to oversee the construction and operational phases of the SKA project is a crucial milestone and one which should be celebrated," says Kubayi-Ngubane.

She adds: "What makes this particularly unique is the fact that, for the first time, Africa, Asia, Australasia and Europe have committed at inter-governmental level to collaborate on a large-scale science project as equal partners. This represents the start of a new era for global science governance."

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of radio telescopes spread over long distances. It will be built in SA and Australia, with later expansion planned for both countries as well as other African nations.

Last month, the flagship project reached another milestone when the SKA teams of engineers from SA and Australia finalised the critical designs of all components essential for the successful construction of the SKA.

According to the department, this milestone, coupled with the signing of the treaty, moves the participating countries another step closer to making this ambitious global project a reality.

The Rome Convention will come into force once it has been ratified by the legislatures of five signatory countries, including all three SKA hosts; namely SA, Australia and the UK.

"International cooperation in science plays a crucial role in fostering international friendship and solidarity, and bolstering commitment to multilateralism, which will assist our world in addressing global challenges like poverty, inequality and climate change. The signing of the convention puts science diplomacy into practice," Kubayi-Ngubane concludes.

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