SKA announces telescope designers

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation – the international body overseeing the pre-construction of the world's largest radio telescope – on Monday announced the consortia that will be designing the giant telescope. They will have three years to come up with the final design, ahead of the beginning of phase one in 2017.

Initial designs of the SKA were based on the telescope, which comprises thousands of antennas and millions of receivers capturing faint signals from the far reaches of the universe, being located in one country. In May last year it was decided that South Africa and Australia would share the SKA, with different frequency antennas in both countries.

"More than 350 scientists and engineers, representing 18 nations and drawn from nearly 100 institutions, universities and industry have the challenging task to work on the critical design phase," the SKA Organisation said.

The design phase has a budget of €120-million.

South Africa will lead the assembly, integration and verification consortium, which "includes the planning for all activities at the remote sites that are necessary to incorporate the elements of the SKA into existing infrastructures, whether these be precursors or new components of the SKA", the organisation said.

In SKA phase one, Australia and South Africa's precursor telescopes – Askap and MeerKAT respectively – will be incorporated into what will become the SKA. As part of their bids to host the giant telescope, both countries developed precursor telescopes. The 64-dish MeerKAT, a South African funded telescope, is expected to come online in 2016. The foundation has been laid for the first dish, which will be completed early next year.

Infrastructure consortium
Jasper Horrel, general manager for science computing and innovation at SKA South Africa, told the Mail & Guardian earlier this year that the assembly integration and verification consortium involved the "system engineering to pull everything together to make sure things work on site".

SKA South Africa's Tracy Cheetham would head up the infrastructure consortium in charge of the South African site, the SKA Organisation said.

"In addition to playing a leading role in [these] work packages, SKA South Africa and its industry and institutional partners are playing strong roles in many of the other work package consortia, [such as] dishes, telescope manager, science data processor, central signal processor and signal and data processor," SKA South Africa said.

"Each element of the SKA is critical to the overall success of the project," SKA Board chairperson Prof John Womersley said. "Now this multi-disciplinary team of experts has three full years to come up with the best technological solutions for the final design of the telescope, so we can start tendering for construction of the first phase in 2017 as planned."

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said last week that he expected the SKA to bring about R18-billion into South Africa.

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Sarah Wild
Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didnt work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africas Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards.

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