MeerKat telescope reaches milestone

The MeerKAT radio telescope project under development in the Karoo has passed its first test, the South African bid team for the Square Kilometre Array astronomy project said on Tuesday.

This will allow construction tenders for the project’s infrastructure to be issued from October.

Once completed, MeerKAT will consist of 64 offset dishes and will be one of the largest, most sensitive radio telescopes in the world. So far, the first seven dishes, known as the Karoo Array Telescope or KAT-7, have been built.

An international panel of experts declared that the MeerKAT had passed its preliminary design review (PDR) with distinction, SKA South Africa project spokesperson Iwan Pienaar said.

This was a major milestone for MeerKAT and followed the successful passing of the MeerKAT concept design review, carried out by another top-level international panel in July 2010,

South Africa’s successful completion of MeerKAT would be a powerful bargaining chip in its bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project, a €1.5-billion project which would be the world’s largest telescope.

The review was carried out in Cape Town by a panel of leading radio astronomers from India, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Chile and Australia.

It evaluated MeerKAT’s design, system engineering development process, risk potential and satisfaction of user requirements.

The panel unanimously concluded that the PDR had been successfully passed and congratulated the project teams.

“We are extremely impressed by the quality of the project team, and the continued tremendous progress in realising KAT-7 and bringing MeerKAT to its current stage,” the panel said in its report.

Tenders will be issued from October 2011 for infrastructure construction for the telescope, including roads, power and optical fibre reticulation, buildings and foundations for the dishes.

Some major components with long lead items, such as the antenna structures, will go out soon as requests for information and detailed specifications for other systems will be developed.

“The PDR has confirmed that the MeerKAT will be among the most competitive telescopes in the world. It will provide African and international scientists and engineers with a cutting edge instrument for revolutionary science and technology,” said Dr Bernie Fanaroff, project director for the SKA South Africa project. — Sapa

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