Deputy President David Mabuza and Minister of Science and Technology Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane recently launched the MeerKAT radio telescope in Carnarvon, Northern Cape.
MeerKAT, consisting of 64 radio satellite dishes, is a precursor to the ambitious Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope – the first of its kind in South Africa and Africa. It is not only a boost for scientific development in South Africa, but has also primed the province for an astro-tourism boom.
The second phase of the project is to see a further 133 dishes launched by 2030. MeerKAT has brought economic advantages for locals, and Kareeberg Municipality Mayor Norman Van Wyk has been quoted as saying that R7-million have been spent on catering and transport in the area since construction began in 2012.
The development of the long-term MeerKAT project is set to bring scientists, researchers, tourists and businesses from all around the globe to Carnarvon, to the benefit of the town’s 9 400 residents.
Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said the MeerKAT telescope was “expected to produce science that will change our understanding of the universe”. It would attract scientists from around the world and “transform culture and innovate astronomy for tomorrow’s economy”.
Plans are under way to stimulate tourism activities along the broader Karoo Highlands Route, according to Northern Cape Tourism Authority marketing manager Dianna Martin.
A new information centre will be set up in Carnarvon to provide visitors with information about the SKA project and towns and settlements in the area.
The meerKAT telescope is co-hosted in Africa and Australia and the entire SKA project is expected to be completed by 2050.