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In a bid to understand the universe and our place in it, humanity has always looked towards the stars. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international endeavour to build the world’s largest radio telescope, capable of mapping space hundreds of times faster than any instrument before it. Constructed in two phases, with SKA1 situated in South Africa and Australia and SKA2 expanding further into Africa, the project is set to be completed by 2028. The project’s expansion into Africa will not only propel astronomical research but also stimulate the development of a robust space innovation ecosystem on the continent.

The expansion of SKA2 info Africa signifies a remarkable leap in capabilities, with an increased frequency range of up to 25GHz.  With this enhanced capacity, SKA2 will enable scientists to delve deeper into the mysteries of the cosmos, exploring phenomena such as dark matter, cosmic magnetism, and the evolution of galaxies. Moreover, the project will generate enormous volumes of data, laying the groundwork for significant advancements in big data analytics.

Beyond global scientific breakthroughs, SKA2 represents a significant opportunity for the continent, serving as a catalyst for growth and development in Africa’s space innovation ecosystem, according to Imraan Saloojee, executive at RIIS. “The project requires substantial investment, not only in infrastructure but also in human capital. Training and capacity-building efforts are necessary to equip African scientists and engineers with the skills needed to contribute to and benefit from the project.”

The SKA Organisation has already been instrumental in bringing together diverse expertise and resources to make this dream a reality, says Saloojee.  The world’s exceptional scientists, policy makers and engineers, over 100 companies, and research institutions across 20 countries have been involved in the development and design of the telescope.

Saloojee says organisations like RIIS can play a crucial role in fostering a robust space innovation ecosystem as the project expands into Africa. With space innovation ecosystem development one of the company’s specialist areas, RIIS supports and strengthens research and innovation systems across several African countries. “By fostering collaboration among scientists, policymakers, and businesses, RIIS is working to create an environment conducive to innovation and discovery,” says Saloojee.

Some of the work that RIIS has undertaken in space economy development has been funded by the RISA Fund, which provides funding and support to research and innovation systems in countries including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Ethiopia. “By strengthening research and innovation systems, the RISA Fund is helping to lay the groundwork for future breakthroughs in space exploration and astronomy. This programme, funded by UKAid, exemplifies the power of global collaboration in pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation,” says Saloojee.