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Consortia complete design for world’s most powerful radio telescope in South Africa


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The two engineering consortia tasked with designing the entire essential infrastructure for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) sites in Australia and South Africa have formally concluded their work, bringing to a close nearly five years of collaboration both within and between the consortia.

TheNewsGuru (TNG) reports the SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK.

The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve understanding of the universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA will be constructed in Australia and South Africa; with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.

Already supported by 12 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions in the design and development of the telescope.

The completed infrastructure in South Africa includes access roads, power, water and sanitation, buildings, antenna foundations, communication, security and site monitoring equipment required to support the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said.

The South African consortium, Infrastructure South Africa (INSA), was led by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), which designed, built and operates the 64-dish SKA precursor telescope, the MeerKAT for which South Africa has already invested more than 760 million rand (about 54.3 million U.S. dollars) in infrastructure.

Following the successful review of the key infrastructure components of the SKA, the project will now move on to the bridging phase, Kubayi-Ngubane said.

This phase will bring together all the individual detailed designs of elements of the SKA and integrate them on a system level, said the minister, adding that a system critical design review will be conducted in December 2019, after which the project will enter the procurement phase, to be followed by construction.

“I am proud of the sterling work by our engineers who are part of the SKA project,” Kubayi-Ngubane said in a statement.

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The SARAO, led by the South African National Research Foundation, has provided world-class infrastructure for the MeerKAT, which has already attracted other international radio astronomy instruments to the SKA site in South Africa, Kubayi-Ngubane said.

“I have no doubt the expertise and best practice developed during the delivery of this precursor telescope enabled the INSA consortium to meet the SKA Organization’s stringent standards for infrastructure design,” she said.


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