After the jubilation of being chosen as the primary country
hosting the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, South
Africa is wasting no time putting in place the regulatory framework
for the project.
"The most important regulatory aspect is creating
radio-quiet zones so that radio waves can be received from space
without interference," says Amanda Armstrong, one of two
directors at Werksmans Attorneys who have worked on the SKA project
since its inception nine years ago.
Having assisted the Department of Science and Technology to
prepare the legal aspects of South Africa's bid to host the
SKA, she and her colleague, Wendy Rosenberg, are now creating the
regulatory framework for the telescope.
"Nothing quite like this has been done before. The
SKA is a completely different telescope from anything the world has
seen to date," says Armstrong.
Apart from being the biggest telescope yet, what makes the SKA
so unique is that it will rely on radio waves received by hundreds
of receivers/arrays dotted across its different sites. The data
received will then be consolidated and made available to
astronomers and other scientists all over the world through fibre
"Radio-quiet zones will be critical for the effective
functioning of the telescope and its receivers," Armstrong
says. "Any interference could fundamentally affect the working
of the telescope and its ability to receive waves coming from other
planets and stars."
Radio-quiet zones and Constitutional rights
One of the most important aspects of creating the regulatory
framework, which falls under the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act
of 2007, is to ensure that radio-quiet zones are achieved within
the ambit of the South African Constitution.
"Care must be taken to comply with the Constitution,
particularly the Bill of Rights, and the Promotion of
Administrative Justice Act," Armstrong says.
The question of rights comes into play when there are people
living or working in the areas demarcated for the SKA receivers,
which will be primarily located at sites around Carnarvon in the
"The land which will be the core area is where the most
important combination of receivers will be located and where
radio-quiet conditions will be most critical," says
Armstrong. The state bought this land some time ago in
preparation for the SKA project.
Although the core area is essentially unoccupied, the area
surrounding it (known as the central areas) is populated, albeit
not densely, and so is the area around that (called the
"The central area, which we are addressing now, will not be
as strictly regulated as the core area, but it is still extremely
important to minimise radio wave interference," Armstrong
says. "It will be important to ensure that the rights of
land-users and owners in that area are taken into account. With
this in mind, all interested parties will be invited to make
Further public consultations will take place down the line when
the time comes to draft the regulations for the co-ordinating area
– the least regulated of the three areas.
Commenting on the role of the Werksmans' team in helping to
pave the way for the SKA telescope, Armstrong says. "It is
amazing to be part of a project that will benefit astronomers and
scientists all over the world and hopefully lead to quantum-leap
discoveries in space."
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