Ghana and South Africa celebrate first success of African network of telescopes

Jul 08, 2017

Ghana and South Africa have announced the combination of 'first light' science observations which confirm the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.

The conversion of the communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope makes Ghana the first partner country of the African Very Large Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to do so.

The 32-metre converted telecommunications antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kutunse will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the African continent.

The combination 'first light' science observations included Methanol Maser detections, VLBI fringe testing and Pulsar observations. Reaching these three objectives confirm that the instrument can operate as a single dish radio telescope and also as part of global VLBI network observations, such as the European VLBI network.

Following the initial 'first light' observations, the research teams from Ghana and South Africa, together with other international research partners, continue to do more observations and are analysing the data generated with the aim to characterise the system and improve its accuracy for future experiments.

"The Ghanaian government warmly embraces the prospect of radio astronomy in the country and our radio astronomy development plan forms part of the broader Ghana Science, Technology and Innovation Development Plan," says Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Ghana Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI).

As an SKA Africa partner country, Ghana welcomed and collaborated with the SKA South Africa (SKA SA)/HartRAO (Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomical Observatory) group to harness the radio astronomy potential of the redundant satellite communication antenna at Kutunse.
A team of scientists and engineers from SKA SA/HartRAO and the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) which is under MESTI, has been working since 2011 on the astronomy instrument upgrade to make it radio-astronomy ready. In 2012, Ghana launched the GSSTI as the vehicle through which to grow its astro-physics programme.

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has been funding a large part of the conversion project through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund (ARF).

The South African Minister of DIRCO, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says, "The African Renaissance Fund is aimed at strengthening cooperation between South Africa and other African countries and to support the development of skills and build institutional capacity on the continent." Nine African partner countries are members of the SKA AVN, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia. "A vital part of the effort towards building SKA on the African Continent over the next decade is to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the SKA," says the South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor.


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