Alkantpan and the SKA will live – and work – in harmony


The high-tech, state-of-the-art radio telescope taking shape in the Northern Cape will co-exist with the Alkantpan ballistic test range.

The Armscor owned and operated range is used by South African and international munitions manufacturers to test and evaluate various sizes of artillery ammunition at distances of over 70 km. This necessitates the use of sensitive radar, slaving and tracking equipment for accurate measuring.

Not that far away, with Carnarvon as its focal point, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is under construction with some components already in use.

The SKA is an international effort building the world’s largest radio telescope with a million square metres of collecting area, hence the square kilometre name. When complete it will deploy thousands of individual radio telescopes across the world in three configurations enabling astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in use.

With both SKA and Alkantpan using sophisticated instruments, the potential for a clash was there but a negotiated and successful conclusion was reached with the signing of a co-existence document.

Armscor notes the effect of the co-existence is still not fully known and will probably only surface once SKA is fully functional. This will confirm whether tests at Alkantpan have any significant influence on SKA operations.

Several changes have to be made at Alkantpan as part of the agreement. These include moving the relay station for radio communication and changing the current system from analogue to digital to decrease the bandwidth used. Part of the mitigation process will see replacement of the mobile upper air meteorological system, the GPS RTP repeater and the internet wi-fi link from Prieska.

To ensure everyone involved is always on the same page, a technical task team co-manages day-to-day operations between Alkantpan and the SKA.