No stopping MeerKAT

2012-02-13 22:34

Cape Town - As South Africa waits for a decision on the country that will win the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, engineers are confident that the MeerKAT will go ahead.

"MeerKAT gets built, whether we win the SKA or not. If we win the SKA, things will change and we will have to re-plan a bit, but what we did was to align MeerKAT pretty close to the mainstream SKA thinking so that we'll be in a position to expand MeerKAT into an SKA Phase 1," MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse told News24.

The SKA will be structured in phases, beginning with 250 antennas in Phase 1, until it reaches a final total of over 3 000 linked radio telescopes that will give astronomers an unprecedented view of the night sky, going back billions of years.

A decision is expected in February, but it might be as late as April 2012.

MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) will consist of 64 linked radio dishes near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province and will, in niche areas, be the most sensitive instrument of its kind.

Design review

"If we don't get SKA, MeerKAT still gets built; we have had confirmation of that on quite a few occasions from our steering committee and from the minister," Esterhuyse said.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said that MeerKAT was a boost for astronomy in Africa.

"We will build MeerKAT, but we have an exciting initiative that we're currently trying to promote on the continent. That of building a VLBI [Very Long Baseline Interferometer] of radio satellites connected across the African continent and linking in to the VLBI network in Europe as well as the Americas," Pandor told News24.

In 2011, a design review praised the development of the MeerKAT as well as the site in the Karoo which has been designated a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007.

"We've got a green light for MeerKAT. In July of last year we had our system PDR [preliminary design review]. We had an international panel of experts; they were very complimentary of our efforts so far and we're out on tender now for some of the infrastructure components," Esterhuyse said.

Tenders for the construction of more roads and a landing strip on site has been put out and the infrastructure on the site is being developed.

"We've just released a tender for the MeerKAT antenna structures; so MeerKAT is happening as we speak.

"They will break soil on infrastructure this year; the first antenna we will probably start working on site in 2013 and essentially hand it over to our system engineering side toward August of 2013," said Esterhuyse.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2016 and represents a technical challenge for the South African engineers. The design of the dishes, and most of the underlying technology, is South African innovation.

"So from the end of 2013 from an engineering side, we will be pretty much done with it and then hand over to the scientists to verify it on a scientific level," Esterhuyse said.

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  • colin.dovey - 2012-02-13 22:55

    THIS is then kind of ACTION we need - Naledi you are a Jewel - the ANC does not deserve you

      Retardus - 2012-02-14 11:35

      You do realise that she was the one who messed up the education system and the bailed off the boat just before everyone started noticing the extent of the failure... Right

      Magdaleen - 2012-02-14 13:21

      @ Retardus - Your name explains you! *Retard*

  • Johan - 2012-02-14 00:26

    Pretty cool! Go SA! :D

  • ed.solan - 2012-02-14 01:44

    assuming Juliarse doesn't get involved in the tender all should go well!

  • DuToitCoetzee - 2012-02-14 01:51

    I just wonder how this works. If we going to build it anyway and some outside countries will fund the one that they approve than why not tell Australia they can build it because than they have I know I sound stupid and is most probably, but is there some-one that can enlighten me please. Irrelevant if we not getting it and build our own I still like the idea and will support the gov. in their decision.

      theadomm - 2012-02-14 07:51

      "The SKA will be structured in phases, beginning with 250 antennas in Phase 1, until it reaches a final total of over 3 000 linked radio telescopes" & " MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) will consist of 64 linked radio dishes". MeerKAT was designed and comissioned as a show peice to try and secure the SKA project. Meerkat is tiny when compared to SKA infact it is just over 2% of the entire SKA projects size.

      DuToitCoetzee - 2012-02-14 08:45

      Thanks I got that part. I other words we will end at that point if not getting the full thing. My point is that will it not be such a significant contribution, even being small, that they decided to give it to Australia because than there will be the "smaller one as well as the big one? I had a good laugh seeing all the thumbs down. Wonder what the point was that cause that. I presume one "clever" one will have an answer on that as

      rowan.maulson - 2012-02-14 09:53

      MeerKAT was a proof of concept, and was going to be completed if we didn't get SKA.. but if we get SKA, then MeerKAT doesn't exist in its current form and will become part of Phase 1 of SKA. As for why not just give it to Australia... well that is up to the decision makers for SKA. I personally am REALLY hoping we get it.. and our timezone is actually a massive benefit for us in this one.

  • Zion - 2012-02-14 07:07

    What is the cost of this project and if I dare ask, where is the money coming from. Near Carnarvon can mean anywhere where life is dead. Carnarvon died a long time ago with the railway line and has just not been buried. Drive into Carnarvon then look up the date: 1895. give or take some days.

      Zion - 2012-02-15 12:13

      Would be of interest to know how many of those idiots on the thumbs down brigade actually know where Carnarvon is or has actually been there.Pretty small minded I daresay.

      Rupesh - 2012-02-16 19:34

      they actually want a place that is dead, that way minimum noise and light disturbance.

  • Vernon - 2012-02-14 07:44

    Fantastic, a good old pat on the back is due to all involved !! this will mean so much for our up and coming scientists........

  • pacmanza - 2012-02-14 08:27

    proudly south african ! :D

  • Errol - 2012-02-14 09:44

    We have top class engineers and scientists.

  • rowan.maulson - 2012-02-14 09:53

    Rock on.... MeerKAT is a massive step forward for us... and if we get SKA, well that will just be AWESOME.

  • Stephen - 2012-02-14 15:33

    Does this have anything to do with SETI? Hope not, the guy running it, Paul Davies, doesn’t think there's anything out there. According to his new book "the eerie silence", life is a miracle, and intelligent life, is a miracle on top of that. Sorry Paul, Steve doesn’t believe in miracles, if the conditions are right it happens, but I do agree with him that there is no intelligent life in the universe.

  • janalbert.vandenberg - 2012-02-14 16:24

    The only proof we have that intelligent life is out there, is that they haven't tried to contact us yet :-D

  • Heinrich - 2012-02-20 13:43

    This is really good news for South Africa. I am truly so proud of the leaps we taking. Now all we need is more jobs, good salaries, killer sky scrapers and killer technology... then we truly will be the light of Africa.

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