Key infrastructure designs for SKA completed

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

All essential infrastructure designs required for the first phase of the world's most powerful radio telescope - the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - have been completed.

The SKA is a collection of thousands of antennas spread over 3 000km which will work together as one gigantic, virtual instrument creating a radio telescope at least 50 times more powerful and 10 000 times faster than any other radio telescope currently in existence.

The telescope will be made up of many large antennas and other types of radio wave receivers that will be linked together via optic fibre cables which are constructed in South Africa and Australia.

For the last five years, engineers have been hard at work at their sites in Murchison, Western Australia and the Northern Cape designing all the essential infrastructure required for construction of this complex global project. 

Following the successful review of the key infrastructure components, the project will now move on to the bridging phase, the Department of Science and Technology said on Monday. This phase will bring together all the individual detailed designs of elements of the SKA and integrate them on a system level. 

A system critical design review will be conducted in December after which the project will enter the procurement phase, followed by construction once the establishment of the SKAO as an intergovernmental organisation has been concluded.

Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has welcomed the progress made by the teams.

"I am proud of the sterling work by our engineers who are part of the SKA project.

“I have no doubt the expertise and best practice developed during the delivery of this precursor telescope enabled the INSA [Infrastructure South Africa] consortium to meet the SKA Organisation's stringent standards for infrastructure design," the minister said.

The minister went on to wish the SKAO well for the system critical design review at the end of 2019, and the development of the construction proposal for approval by the intergovernmental organisation.

South Africa's Department of Science and Technology has already invested more than R760 million in infrastructure for the MeerKAT radio telescope, which was completed in July last year in Carnarvon, the Northern Cape.

Kubayi-Ngubane said she looks forward to her official visit to Rome next month for the signing of the SKA Convention, following four rounds of negotiations over the last few years. 

Italy, which led the multilateral negotiation process, was the first country to initial the document. The Minister will then proceed to the SKA Global Headquarters in Manchester, UK.

Once completed, the radio astronomers will use the SKA to understand how stars and galaxies formed, how they evolved over time; what the so-called "dark-matter" is that occupies 95% of the universe; how magnetic fields formed and evolved in the universe and how they influence astrophysical processes; to investigate the validity of Einstein's theory of relativity, and perhaps detect life elsewhere in the universe. –