SKA design changed to boost bid

2011-02-10 12:26

Cape Town - South Africa's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope has been given a boost as the engineers on the project have begun fine-tuning the design.

The process to host the SKA is a "build and learn" project where South African engineers have built the KAT 7 (Karoo Array Telescope) as a test bed radio astronomy instrument.

This is a precursor to the MeerKAT which will consist of connected telescopes using the science of interferometry, where several telescopes observe a single body and the data is combined to give a more accurate picture.

"The original KAT was meant to be 20 telescopes, but it wouldn't be a serious science instrument," project manager Willem Esterhuyse told News24.

MeerKAT though, which will consists of 64 connected telescopes, has the potential to deliver as a reliable scientific instrument. The SKA project has already received proposals from astronomers wanting to use the MeerKAT for study.

Difficult exercise

"In March 2010 we received some proposals for the MeerKAT. In niche areas it [MeerKAT] would be the most sensitive in the world," said Esterhuyse.

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.

Esterhuyse acknowledged that building the MeerKAT was a difficult exercise and indicated that once the project got up to speed, sub-contractors would have to move into high gear to deliver the dishes assembled on site near Carnavon in the Northern Cape province.

Some challenges include development of the amplifier which has to increase the signal strength from the telescopes without adding noise, rendering the image useless.

SA is competing with Australia to host the SKA and local experts are convinced that SA's bid will attract the nod.

"When we first participated in the SKA nobody took us seriously because it was always assumed it would go to Australia. But we've been able to change perceptions with our KAT 7," SA SKA project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff recently told News24.

The telescopes will also spur the growth of science and human capital development in the country as it demanded more and highly skilled individuals to develop and manage the project, due to be finished by 2016.

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  • Cassandra - 2011-02-10 12:43

    Sorry guys - it's probably a non-starter. With the inevitable greasing of palms it's a given that the oil companies will start 'fracking' the hell out of the Karoo. Clear skies will be a distant memory.

      Cynic - 2011-02-15 05:56

      Take your morbidity and put it where the telescope won't see it! We've got enough of your negativity in this country as it is. If you can do a better job, do it, or else shut it or leave.

  • kznsc - 2011-02-10 12:53

    Well done so far! SKA will preserve the clear skies of the Karoo. What you put out there will manifest itself.....believe in yourselves and what you do, there are many who have faith and stand behind you!

  • Jo - 2011-02-10 13:35

    The headline is misleading. The design of the SKA has not changed. It is the design of KAT 7 that has changed to be in line with the whole SKA design.

  • Stevie - 2011-02-10 14:34

    Note that the only people with recognisable faces in the photos... are the politicians.

  • King Solomon - 2011-02-10 15:01

    Does the minister know anything about science or is she just there because she is a member of the ANC? The Photos should be of the SKA not the minister's ugly face.

      Cynic - 2011-02-15 05:57

      Get over it already. There's much more important things to be fickle about!

      John Fox - 2011-03-17 13:35

      King Solomon, Before posting comments please research the topic first. Dr Naledi Pandor is very passionate about promoting science and technology in South Africa. And no I am not an ANC supporter normally but I have great respect for the lady for her work she is doing for scientists in this country. On a recent visit to the Durban University of Technology she was shown the Indlebe Radio Telescope on campus, which was designed and built by the staff and students. The minister was "blown away" by what she saw, not being aware of the work quietly going on behind the scenes. DUT is a partner in the SKA program, being the academic institute chosen to provide the qualified technicians and engineers for the SKA. I am a Masters Research Project member designing the second generation Indlebe Enkulu telescope. This funding is from the NRF, which the minister controls, and she has recruited a well known Canadian radio astronomer to run the SKA project. South Africa is streets ahead of Australia, they are just now building their first antenna system, the KAT-7 is fully constructed and working extremely well and performing a useful role in the research. For those not aware of the magnitude of the final SKA design, it will consist of radio telescopes in Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar all linked together in an aperture synthesis network.

  • - 2011-02-11 14:43

    Nice pictures ! :) I wonder why they don't bury the power lines to reduce noise.

      dob - 2011-02-21 18:27

      +1. My guess is delivery cost and (mainly) time.

      TinyT - 2011-02-23 08:14

      The power lines and everything else within 50km is designed and built specifically to reduce noise. There are no cell phone signals, computers and in noise reducing boxes and so on. Any disturbance nearby interferes with the project which is why exploration for oil would destroy the entire project which is worth billions to us!

  • Drageo - 2011-02-12 12:18

    I sincerely hope South Africa wins the bid, but there are unfortunately a few matters that may work against us. It is said on plenty occasions that qualified people are needed to manage SKA, but as a scientist, you could consider it a miracle if you are granted a scholarship from the NRF-SKA Bursary Scheme due to affirmative action laws. The political environment in the country would have to change to ensure all South-Africans can benefit equally from this project.

      Cynic - 2011-02-15 05:59

      Agreed. Overall employment practices, not just in the science and engineering fields, need to be reviewed in South Africa to focus on merit rather than irrelevant affiliations. We're close to 20 years after apartheid, so their AA/EE policies are in desperate need of an overhaul.

      dob - 2011-02-21 18:26

      Signal processing engineer here in the same boat. It's funny yet horrifically sad. Best option seems to be to take ones' skills where they would be appreciated.

      TinyT - 2011-02-23 08:11

      My sister is white and got a scholarship from the SKA. The guys involved are well qualified and doing a great job. Rather concern yourself with how the entire project will be destroyed by development of an oil industry in the area.

  • Ascendo Tuum - 2011-02-16 08:12

    What's Stevie Wonder doing there?

  • maydont - 2011-02-18 12:32

    There's a lot of cynicism here, but the government has generally been very willing to put resources, money and support behind the SKA bid. I understand a lot more so than the Aussie government. If it comes off it will mean sustained investment for RSA.

  • Bjorn - 2011-02-24 16:17

    Now I wonder what Naledi Pandor on image no2 êêê actually, êêê basically knows about êêê technology êêê as êêê mêtta of fêct. Eish, darrie motshien ies so wêrrie klewwa.

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