MeerKAT telescope leading innovation

2011-03-23 17:07
Cape Town - South Africa's MeerKAT project is the ideal precursor for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope bid and local engineers have developed technology to reduce the costs associated with the project.

"The MeerKAT is an instrument in its own right, even if the SKA doesn't happen," MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse told News24.

The MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) aims to build 64 radio telescopes in the Northern Cape province as the country prepares its bid to host the international SKA which will consist of approximately 3 000 instruments, capable of high resolution imaging of distant objects using the the radio spectrum.

The Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007 has designated a large area in the province as a radio reserve to prohibit any radio frequency interference which would impact on the quality of the observatory.

The MeerKAT began with the building of seven telescopes (KAT 7) as a test-bed project on the site near Carnarvon.

Systems test

"We built seven antennas and learnt a lot from that; we received our first image in April 2010 to test out the system," Esterhuyse said.

That image was obtained using four of the seven dishes on the site and engineers used to data to check that the systems, which were designed in SA, were working correctly.

Three cold receivers are installed and the remaining four should be ready by May. These receivers amplify the signal received by the antenna, without adding any radio noise which would destroy the radio waves from deep space.

"We're still doing engineering tests and toward year-end, we'll do science tests and then there'll be more images," said SA SKA project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff.

Recently, the design of the dishes was changed to be more efficient and better place South Africa's bid for the SKA in opposition to Australia.

The upgraded design will see offset dishes with an open aperture that should result in a more accurate instrument. Engineers are quite bullish about the new design.

"MeerKAT will easily detect a cellphone if you put it on the moon," said engineer Richard Lord.


One of the breakthroughs of the project was the local development of the Roach (Reconfigurable Open Architecture Computing Hardware) board.

It allows the processing of the signal in the digital back end of the instrument, but different software can be written for it.

Esterhuyse said that progress was being made in terms of human capital development. "More than 300 students have gone through the bursary programme and we've brought some in as interns," he added.

"There will be a system review by July 2011 and we have the 10MB/s line to Cape Town installed, but that will be upgraded to 10GB/s fibre". The system will be developed so that data from the observatory can be transmitted at high speed.

The project is funded by the department of science and technology.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    science  |  astronomy

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36 publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

Ireland centre Payne out of RWC
Jones: Japan can be 'team of the tournament'
Tuilagi gets punishment cut
As it happened: New Zealand 47-9 Tonga
Traffic Alerts

The phrase for today is:”Out of the blue.” Expect the unexpected and work with the changeable energy. Your intuition is more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.