SKA spurs MeerKAT development

2012-05-28 22:05

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.


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.


"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.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

  • Sharon - 2012-05-29 07:00

    I'm going to start a lottery on how much this project is going to be over budget and only attain partial completion due to theft of hardware. Once that has come about I'm going to start another bet that the project will be terminated and moved entirely to Australia and New Zealand.

      tonyzr2tx - 2012-05-29 07:09

      Why must everything be so negative. Do you know anything at all about this project?

      rupesh.hari.7 - 2012-05-29 07:29

      Come on Tony, it is not Sharon's fault. She is just being a patriotic Australian. Just ignore her. At one time, people like her said SA won't even be on the finalist list. Guest what? we were. At one time, people like her said SA just doesn't have the scientific skills to pull it off (especially since she moved to Oz). Guess what? We were judged the better of the two in terms of scientific bid. At one time, people like her said SA has no chance of winning it. Guess what? We crushed Oz and took 70% of the project. Now all she can say is that we will go over budget. Leave her be. She is only being a patriotic Australian.

      Sharon - 2012-05-29 07:34

      @tony. not negative, just merely extrapolating from the past performance of major projects, i.e. Arms deal -fail (in all branches); Gautrain-fail; etolls -fail; Sewage works -fail; Eskom -fail; Roads -fail; local governance -fail etc... see the pattern tony. The difference between this SKA project and the others is that this is a international project, hence the sponsors will move the project to another country when the theft and corruption render the entire project unfeasible. Remember, you read it here first, I bet that I'm right.

      tonyzr2tx - 2012-05-29 08:43

      @Sharon The only flaw in your argument is that this project is being run by the scientific community, not the Government, BIG difference.

      lydonmcg - 2012-05-29 12:41

      And while you're doing that, I'm going to sit on the sidelines and laugh. Get a life!

  • pages:
  • 1