Direct benefits of hosting the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) in South Africa

Radio Astronomy in South Africa

The Southern African region has attracted significant international investment into large-scale astronomy research infrastructure for the past three decades. This includes investment in multi-messenger telescopes, such as the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) in Namibia, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in South Africa, and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, which will be located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) is a radio astronomy facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is responsible for managing all radio astronomy initiatives in South Africa, including the MeerKAT radio telescope in the Northern Cape, and the science and operational activities of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) facility. SARAO also coordinates the African VLBI Network (AVN) for the 8 SKA partner countries in Africa, as well as South Africa’s contribution to the infrastructure and engineering planning for the SKA telescope.

Benefits of hosting HERA in South Africa

  • Direct investment into HERA by the US, South Africa and the UK totalled over R70 million from 2013 to 2021.
  • South Africa received over R40 million in international investment for the construction of HERA over the period 2015 to 2021.
  • South Africa contributed over R32 million to the HERA collaboration, mainly towards human resources for the project management, construction and maintenance of the instrument, as well as human capital development in growing local science and engineering capacity.

Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA)

The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) is a radio astronomy experiment located on the MeerKAT / SKA telescope site in the Northern Cape of South Africa. The HERA instrument is an array consisting of 350 antennas, with the goal of observing how the first structures formed in the very early stages of the Universe, as the first stars and galaxies lit up space.

HERA is a US-led project that forms part of a large international collaboration representative of institutions from Europe, South Africa, the UK and the US. Construction of HERA began in 2015, with the full array reaching completion in 2021. SARAO managed the construction of the instrument in close collaboration with US institutions. Technical support for the maintenance and operations of the instrument on-site is provided by SARAO.

South Africa’s continued investment into Human Capital Development

  • South Africa has invested over R12 million towards funding of masters and doctoral scholarships, as well as postdoctoral fellowships based on HERA research.
  • A total of 24 scholarships were awarded from 2013 to 2021 to support research related to HERA – 16 awards for/ masters and doctoral degrees, and 8 towards postdoctoral research fellowships.
  • Half of the scholarship awards were made to South Africans funded at the masters and doctoral level of study.
  • South Africa’s hosting of HERA and its continued financial support for human capital development has led to an increase in South African universities and researchers participating in the HERA collaboration.
  • South Africa’s participation in the HERA collaboration has led to growth of local science and engineering capacity, which will further enhance South Africa’s knowledge economy.

Direct benefits to South African provinces

  • Over R25 million was awarded through financial tenders to suppliers for goods and services for the construction of HERA from 2016 to 2019.
  • The Northern Cape province benefitted the most from direct investment made into the construction of HERA with over R15 million in expenditure towards suppliers for goods and services.
  • The Gauteng (R 8,636,491) and the Western Cape (R 4,910,055) provinces additionally benefitted from the award of tenders for the construction of HERA.
  • Local suppliers based in the town closest to the instrument, Carnarvon, benefitted the most from the direct investment (95% of total direct investment into the Northern Cape province) when compared to other towns in the Northern Cape province.
  • By sourcing and fabricating construction materials from local suppliers in the Northern Cape, HERA has positively impacted the Northern Cape’s construction sector, creating opportunities for local businesses.
  • 24 mostly local residents from Carnarvon were employed over the construction period of HERA from 2016 to 2021.

Last Updated on March 29, 2024

Share this