11/03/2009 - 22:00

Telescope a boost for Mid West

11/03/2009 - 22:00

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CONSTRUCTION, hospitality and technical industries in the Mid West will get a boost when building of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Project telescope begins in June.

CONSTRUCTION, hospitality and technical industries in the Mid West will get a boost when building of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Project telescope begins in June.

The ASKAP telescope is part of Australia's bid, against a rival site in South Africa's Karoo region, to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, an international project budgeted to cost $A3 billion.

The state government has committed $30 million to the ASKAP telescope, with the federal government to contribute $110 million and the University of Western Australia and Curtin University to contribute $60 million.

UWA astronomy professor and International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research director Peter Quinn said building the ASKAP telescope, and operation of scientific surveys once it is complete, will require a host of support staff.

"When ASKAP goes online it will have to be supported, so there will have to be people onsite to make sure that it's up and running and secure and all the infrastructure needed to run the telescope is operational," Professor Quinn said.

"It will need support staff, security staff and structural staff at the site and also at Geraldton."

"There will be a level of computer processing done so there will be new staff living in Geraldton to run the facility. All the operations of the ASKAP will require people to be employed, and there will be some onsite, some in Geraldton and some in Perth as well."

The announcement that construction of the telescope would begin in June brought forward the possibility for scientific collaboration between the WA ASKAP telescope and South Africa's MEERKAT telescope.

"There's been discussions going on for a while in the scientific community in both places about possibly doing joint science programs using the SKA as collaborative instruments," Professor Quinn said.

"The announcement that we were building the telescope and the call for tenders to use it brought those discussions to a head. There's a bunch of people who are pursuing that with more vigour."

Federal Innovation Minister Kim Carr announced at a convention in Cape Town last month that Australia and South Africa would be pursuing a collaborative approach rather than competing.

A spokesperson for the minister told WA Business News that both sites were building telescopes in their competitive bids for the SKA project but would also collaborate, especially in relation to the complementary features of the telescopes.

City of Geraldton chief executive Tony Brun said Australia should keep up its efforts to win the world-class SKA project.

"The South Africans were running hard and fast [at the Cape Town meeting] with a competitive approach," Mr Brun said.

Mr Brun said the attendance of state treasurer Troy Buswell had been influential in conveying the value of the technology to WA's regions and indigenous community.

"He seemed to get the message loud and clear, the importance of us having to compete with the South Africans for our regional development and, more importantly, indigenous outcomes," Mr Brun said.

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