SKA spurs MeerKAT development

2012-05-28 22:05
A model of the revised MeerKAT dish which is closely aligned to the SKA requirements is seen at the project office in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A model of the revised MeerKAT dish which is closely aligned to the SKA requirements is seen at the project office in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - South Africa is focused on building radio telescopes in the Karoo after the country won the right to host the larger share of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

The SKA Organisation awarded SA a larger share of the massive science project that aims to link thousands of radio telescopes across Africa and Australia. The instrument will allow astronomers to look about 12 billion years back in time.

Scientists were ecstatic that the project, which received backing from the department of science and technology, was coming to the country.

"Up to now the SKA project could not really move forward. At last we can now move into the really exciting phase - the detailed design and building of the SKA," said Professor Justin Jonas, associate director of Science and Engineering, SKA South Africa.

The decision allows engineers to move forward to accelerate development of the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope), initially designed as a test bed for the SKA, but has become an instrument in its own right. It will comprise 64 antennas and is scheduled for completion in 2016.

MeerKAT

Jonas said that the MeerKAT was key for development of the SKA.

"The decision recognises MeerKAT as a key instrument that will make up one quarter of SKA Phase 1 mid-frequency array, and the science planned for SKA Phase 1 is very similar to the MeerKAT science case - just much more ambitious," he said.

Construction of the SKA Phase I will commence when the MeerKAT is complete in 2016.

Companies are already on standby for MeerKAT construction and the project office said that plans are at an advanced stage to roll out an industrial-level production process to produce the radio telescopes.

"Part of qualification is also to qualify your manufacturing processes. We don't know at this stage which antennas we're going to build: It might be the composite antennas; it might be another antenna, we've gone out on tender and it's the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] that prescribes our contracting model to us," MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse told News24.

He added that the office had evaluated companies and that MeerKAT should progress well.

"We've already got a pretty good idea on the technical abilities of various companies; we've got an idea of what sort of schedules they can make and whether they can meet our budget," said Esterhuyse.

Technology

"We are fairly confident that they can meet our schedule's timelines and they might actually, with a bit of luck, be able to pull that in a little bit," he added.

The MeerKAT radio dishes have been designed to align with the requirements of the SKA, and engineers are engaged in pushing the boundaries of the technology that will be required to produce the instrument.

"We are actively engaged in pushing technological limits and on KAT 7 we did that more than maybe we would do on MeerKAT. On MeerKAT you've got to go with essentially mature technologies in terms of computing and storage, for example," Esterhuyse said.

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