SKA technology 'doesn't exist'

2011-08-24 13:05

Cape Town - The technology to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) doesn't exist yet, but it will drive development of technology for South Africa, the project director has said.

"The Square Kilometre Array is an iconic project - it's the biggest telescope in the world," SA SKA project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff told News24.

South Africa's bid for the SKA project aims to build over 3 000 linked radio telescopes in the Northern Cape to enable astronomers to study the ancient history and formation of the universe.

Seven telescopes have been built as a test bed and the next stage of the programme is to build the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope).

"By working on the Square Kilometre Array and on the MeerKAT as we're doing now, we're developing a group of young people who have skills and capabilities - not just in current technology - but in the next-generation technology," said Fanaroff.


The handling of massive data is one of the most significant challenges in building the SKA and the project will accelerate technological development in SA.

"The technology for the SKA doesn't exist at the present time.

"In order to do what has to be done with the huge data rates that you'll get in the Square Kilometre Array, you need new technologies with order of magnitude improvements in power efficiency; you need exoflop of computing and you need very sophisticated algorithms," Fanaroff said.

The South African team has been working on technology to process the digital signals for the MeerKAT, but the technology for the SKA remains a daunting and elusive challenge with current technology.

Recently, the team signed a memorandum of understanding with Intel to partner in technological development of the MeerKAT.

"Scaling up to the Square Kilometre Array, the science processing will have to work at 8 exaflops, now that's a lot faster than anything currently in existence and these numbers aren't affordable yet.

"Part of the exciting challenges is you need very complex algorithms," said Fanaroff.


He said that progress was being made with the broadband line that was installed on the site, near Carnarvon in the Karoo, and the installation of the seven cold receivers in the antennas.

These work at a temperature of 70K (-203°C) so that they do not "pollute" the raw radio signals from deep space.

"We now have a 10Gbps link working but that can be scaled up to whatever is required by the SKA which, believe it or not, is 400 terabits per second. Now that is fast.

"That means that the Square Kilometre Array will be handling about 200 times the data rate of the entire internet. That is a challenge."

The project will spawn new technology industries as the rollout of the MeerKAT begins with a goal to complete the 64 instruments by 2015.

"There will be new industries in the next 10, 20 years, based in the ICT [information and communications technology] area: We're looking at huge sensor networks, huge data sets - how you analyse these things; how you process them; how you visualise them," said Fanaroff.

He said that this project would see SA play a leading role in these technological developments.

"There's no reason in my mind why South Africa cannot play a leading role in developing those new industries: Not just a follower's role, but a leading role."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    kimberley  |  astronomy  |  ska

Read News24’s Comments Policy 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
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


3 must-do trail runs

If you love trail running, you have to put these on your bucket list.


Where were you when you last felt alive?

Climbing the world’s largest stone arch
Awesome extreme sports people
Watch: 2015 Absa Cape Epic route
Watch: Insane road bike skills!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

One day only! – 40% off Appliances!

Get 40% off 100’s of appliances at While stocks last. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


There is a strong desire to be self sufficient, right and in control today. There is a tendency to hold on too tightly to 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.