It was stated that, considering the increase in the participation of the developing countries in astronomy and space science and taking into account the foreseeable rapid increase of participating professionals in the developing countries, it was important to establish the tools for their participation at the most advanced scale. Since access to smaller telescopes and the use of archival data in astronomy would result in an expanding and professionally competent astronomical community in the developing countries, it should be recognized that access to front-line facilities would be required for many scientists. As the costs associated with major ground-based facilities would often pose excessive economic burdens for the developing economies, such conditions would give rise to an unproductive conflict cycle in which many of the best trained scientists would tend to travel elsewhere for their professional lives, which would remove an important asset for their countries: highly trained people.
In a world where concentration of first-scale astronomical facilities was an unstoppable trend, a technologically attractive solution could be supplied by a World Space Observatory. That would also stimulate industrial development, enhance and improve the communications infrastructure and allow independent local access to a prime astronomical facility.
The Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies was established in 1984 with the objective of accelerating the introduction and development of modern technologies in Sri Lanka in the fields of computers, communications, space technologies, robotics and energy. The Arthur C. Clarke Centre had been planning to combine activities related to space communications and satellite remote sensing since its establishment and to launch a practicable programme in the field of space technologies. That programme was only confined to scientific and technical work within the geostationary orbit. Following the introduction in 1994 of an action plan based on the Beijing Declaration on Space Technology Applications for Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, which had been adopted by the ministerial conference on space applications for development in Asia and the Pacific, held at Beijing from 19 to 24 September 1994, the Arthur C. Clarke Centre established a space applications centre in 1995. Following the decision to accept the donation of a telescope to the Arthur C. Clarke Centre, plans were made to commence astronomical programmes in the space applications centre.
In the early 1960s, the Universities Commission in Sri Lanka, established by the Governor General, identified the importance of astronomical education and research and recommended that a separate Department of Astronomy should be set up and provided with the necessary equipment and facilities. That recommendation did not materialize. Sri Lanka currently has a Zeiss planetarium that contributes to the astronomical education in the country.
The few other small telescopes available in the country were primarily used for amateur observation purposes. However, many organizations and individuals were keen to acquire knowledge in astronomy, despite the limited facilities available.
At the first United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop on Basic Space Science, held at Bangalore, India, in 1991 (A/AC.105/489), a team of scientists representing Sri Lanka indicated the importance to their country of acquiring an astronomical telescope. At the Workshop, the United Nations recommended the establishment of an observatory in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the Office for Outer Space Affairs made a request to the Government of Japan to consider donating a telescope to Sri Lanka. The Government of Japan, after having considered the request, offered a 45-centimetre Cassegrain reflecting telescope to the Government of Sri Lanka.
A team of officials from the Government of Japan and the United Nations visited Sri Lanka in 1992 and a meeting was held at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science at Colombo. Owing to the large expenditure for the infrastructure required for the telescope and considering the technical capabilities of the Centre, it was requested to take over the project. It was decided to instal the telescope on the fourth floor of the new building of the Arthur C. Clarke Centre, which was under construction at the time.
It was also decided to construct the telescope room with a sliding roof instead of a dome due to the high costs involved. The Board of Governors of the Arthur C. Clarke Centre established in 1994 a Steering Committee comprising astronomers, scientists and engineers to prepare an action plan to implement the project.
The first meeting of the Steering Committee was held in September 1994. The Minister of Science, Technology and Human Resources Development of Sri Lanka took a keen interest in the project and obtained the necessary approval to accept the 45-centimetre reflecting telescope from the GOTO Manufacturing Company of Japan. The telescope arrived in Sri Lanka in 1995.
The Steering Committee identified certain areas to be considered for future activities under the telescope project. It was decided to make the facility available for the following activities: (a) facilitating research work of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes related to astronomy in the universities of Sri Lanka; (b) linking up with international astronomical observation programmes; (c) conducting routine observation programmes with the assistance of the astronomers and the staff of the Arthur C. Clarke Centre; (d) maintaining a database at the Arthur C. Clarke Centre and linking it up with other countries through Internet; and (e) promoting astronomical education in Sri Lanka and assisting amateur astronomical associations.
In the telescope project the Arthur C. Clarke Centre will act as the host and help the scientists and astronomers in Sri Lanka to obtain the optimum usage of the telescope. The telescope facility was inaugurated during the Fifth United Nations/ESA Workshop on Basic Space Science.