African VLBI Network

The AVN is a network of VLBI-capable radio telescopes on the African continent, that will strengthen the science which the international VLBI community can do.

The AVN will help to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the SKA and enable participation in SKA pathfinder technology development and science.

The AVN programme will transfer skills and knowledge in African partner countries to build, maintain, operate and use radio telescopes.

It will bring new science opportunities to Africa on a relatively short time scale and develop radio astronomy science communities in the SKA partner countries.

Designed to do important science

A vital part of the effort towards building SKA on the African Continent over the next decade is the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network (AVN). The recent annual SKA African Partner Countries Ministerial Meeting held in Pretoria, provided political and strategic leadership to African SKA partner countries on the AVN, SKA and other relevant astronomy programmes and initiatives.

The SKA AVN partners of South Africa are: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia.

African Ministers Meeting resolutions

The African Ministers Meeting resolved:

  • To make provision for operational, maintenance and upgrade costs associated with the respective AVN observatories.
  • To make available the land and associated infrastructure needed for the AVN project.
  • To intensify Human Capital Development programmes.
  • To develop a governance framework for radio astronomy initiatives on the continent, in particular for SKA and AVN and
  • To work towards a formal multilateral agreement, to be signed during 2016.

Progress update

Associate Director, Anita Loots, says the initial focus is the conversion at the Kutunse site in Ghana with its in-built component of technology and knowledge transfer towards capacity building. “We need to make sure that the first instrument works and works well. With this in mind, the first operational interferometer is likely to be SA-Ghana,” she added, stating that the Kutunse telescope should be functional (as a VLBI-capable system) by March 2017.

In Zambia, feasibility studies for converting the antenna at Mwembeshi are progressing well. The Kenyan conversion project at Longonot is also expected to make strides shortly.

Mauritius is unlocking their own funds for specific initiatives and is investing in a bursary programme and a small interferometer. Botswana is making funds available for activities in data processing


The Leverhulme-Royal Society Award committed £179 100 towards research. Launched in September 2014, there are currently 15 Ghanaian researchers involved. The project aims to train researchers in Ghana to monitor methanol masers to map the structure of the Milky Way. Some 60 researchers will be trained over three years to use the Kutunse antenna.

Big data requirements

The European Union has committed itself to support high performance computing (HPC) as a strategic resource of both AVN and SKA. The big data programme will see the establishment of high-performance computing facilities in African partner countries

Big Data can be defined as the ability to process and analyse huge quantities of data in real time and is an important component of the SKA SA and will have to be developed in each of the nine AVN partner countries. A cadre of African scientists and engineers will become proficient in HPC and equipped to use the AVN cyber-infrastructure being built.

Industry has already expressed its willingness to come on board and help expand the preparations for the big data revolution in Africa.

The AVN is funded almost exclusively by the DIRCO African Renaissance Fund (ARF).

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