MeerKAT foundations take shape

2013-08-15 12:45
Minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom leans on one of the KAT 7 radio antenna dishes on the site of the SKA outside Carnarvon. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom leans on one of the KAT 7 radio antenna dishes on the site of the SKA outside Carnarvon. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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KAT 7 operation

2012-10-15 08:31

MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse chats about the operation of the KAT 7 in the Northern Cape in this YouTube video.WATCH

Cape Town - The MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) project is moving ahead swiftly with the construction of the foundations of the radio telescopes near Carnarvon in the Karoo.

The SKA SA which runs the project to construct the 64 telescopes said that work began on Wednesday to pour 78m³ of concrete to build the base which will include nine tons of steel.

"The foundations must ensure that each of the 19m high antennas with its 13.5 x 16m main reflector will be exceptionally stable and able to point accurately at distant celestial objects at wind speeds gusting to 69km/h as well as survive wind speeds of up to 144km/h," said Tracy Cheetham, general manager for infrastructure and site operations at SKA South Africa.

The MeerKAT is a precursor to the far more massive SKA (Square Kilometre Array) which will consist of over 3 000 telescopes and give astronomers an unprecedented view of the early universe, about 13.5 billion years ago.

The foundation of the instrument has a depth of between 5m to 10m depending on the quality of the soil and engineers have designed them to ensure that they can fully support the antennas in adverse weather conditions.

Data quality

The construction methods used on the MeerKAT are also critical because it is expected that the SKA will utilise many similar construction methods, especially as it needs to be operational by 2024.

"Getting this absolutely right is critically important for the science to be done with this instrument, and will also inform the construction of foundations for other SKA dishes to be built in the Karoo," Cheetham said.

The seven radio telescopes already constructed on the site, which is designated as protected under the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, have produced data that was published in a scientific journal.

"This is a significant milestone for South Africa's SKA project, proving that our engineers are able to deliver a cutting-edge scientific instrument, and that our scientists are able to use it for frontier science," said Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom.

The act prohibits radio signals from being broadcast in the area that would have an impact on the quality of the data obtained by the MeerKAT instrument or the SKA.

"The designated frequency spectrum within which the radio astronomy observations will be carried out and which needs protection is the continuous spectrum from 500MHz to 10GHz," the provision in the act reads.

President Jacob Zuma visited the site in 2012 and gave his full support to the project.

"Total political support is what we have. We have had a lot of discussions in Cabinet with the minister and the deputy minister. They were briefing us on the development here," Zuma told News24 at the site.

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

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