Cape Town - Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor on Thursday welcomed the signing of a letter of intent by nine countries to see the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope built.
South Africa, Australia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and New Zealand signed the letter of intent in Italy at the weekend - declaring their common intention to see the SKA built, and agreeing to work together to secure funding for the next phase of the project, the department said in a statement.
The target construction cost was €1.5bn and construction could start as early as 2016.
The signatory parties represented organisations of national scale and would co-ordinate groups carrying out SKA research and development (R&D) in their respective countries.
South Africa's continuing involvement in the €1.5bn global science project was in line with its commitment to grow investment in R&D.
The development and construction of the MeerKAT radio telescope was playing an important role in the development of the SKA and South Africa's expertise would be fully involved in the global effort to develop the cutting-edge science and technology to be used by the SKA, the department said.
The design, construction and operation of the telescope had the potential to impact on skills development in science, engineering and in associated industries not only in the host countries but in all project partner countries.
The signing of the letter took place at a meeting that established the founding board for the SKA as a new management structure to guide the project into the next phase.
The new board announced that the SKA Project Office (SPO) would be based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester in the UK.
It was expected to supersede the existing SKA Development Office (SPDO) currently based at the University of Manchester.
Beyond the nine countries that had already signed the letter of intent, several countries had indicated they would sign in future.
It was hoped that a formal structure would be established in July, at the international SKA Forum in Canada.
More than 70 institutes in 20 countries, together with industry partners, were participating in the scientific and technical design of the telescope which would be located either in Australia and New Zealand or Southern Africa extending to the Indian Ocean Islands.