South African Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has congratulated the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) team of engineers for successful completion of all essential infrastructure designs for the first phase of the project to build the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
The SKA, a collection of telescopes spread over long distances that will combine to unlock the universe’s mysteries, will be constructed in South Africa and Australia, with later expansion planned for both countries as well as other African countries. The international collaboration to build the SKA is led by the SKA Organisation (SKAO) headquartered in Manchester, United Kingdom.
For the last five years, two engineering consortia have worked at sites in Murchison, Western Australia and the Northern Cape, South Africa, designing essential infrastructure required for construction of this complex global project to get under way. This includes access roads, power, water and sanitation, buildings, antenna foundations and the communication, security and site monitoring equipment to support the SKA telescope.
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.
In June and July 2018, after nearly five years of collaboration, both teams had successful critical design reviews and subsequently made final refinements. To pass the critical design review proposed designs had to demonstrate compliance with SKA “Level 1” requirements.
Following the successful review of the key infrastructure components of the SKA – considered a major engineering victory – the project now moves on to the bridging phase. This will bring together individual detailed designs of SKA elements and integrate them at system level. A system critical design review will be conducted in December, after which the project enters the procurement phase, followed by construction once the establishment of the SKAO as an inter-governmental organisation is concluded.
“I am proud of the sterling work by our engineers who are part of the SKA project,” said the Minister. “SARAO, led by the National Research Foundation, provided world-class infrastructure for MeerKAT, which has already attracted other international radio astronomy instruments to the SKA site in South Africa.
“I have no doubt the expertise and best practice developed during delivery of the precursor telescope enabled the INSA consortium to meet the SKA Organisation’s stringent standards for infrastructure design,” she added.
“We wish the SKAO well for the system critical design review at the end of 2019 and 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 MeerKAT,completed and launched by Deputy President David Mabuza last July, at the site 90 km from Carnarvon in Northern Cape.