MeerKAT aces review

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SA’s demonstrator telescope for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), MeerKAT, passed its first design review with flying colours, says a panel of international experts.

MeerKAT is being built by the South African team working on the bid to host the SKA mega-telescope.

Close to 100 young scientists and engineers are working on the MeerKAT project. It is a world-class radio telescope designed to do groundbreaking science, according to the SKA SA project office.

It will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, until the completion of the SKA in 2024.

SKA SA says an international panel of experts declared that the MeerKAT passed its preliminary design review (PDR) with distinction.
“This is a major milestone in the construction of the 64-dish radio telescope in the Karoo Astronomy Reserve, in the Northern Cape, and follows the successful passing of the MeerKAT concept design review, carried out by another top-level international panel, in July 2010.
“It has already grabbed the attention of the world and has attracted tremendous international interest from scientists, engineers and industry.”

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

The panel was convened to evaluate all aspects of the design of the MeerKAT, the system engineering development process, risk potential and satisfaction of user requirements.

The panel unanimously concluded that the PDR has been successfully passed and congratulated the project team, according to SKA SA.
“We note with great appreciation the exceptional openness and transparency of the project management and teams, which is of very great importance also for the SKA telescope. 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,” says the panel.

It commended the project team for the intelligent approach towards systems engineering, looking after the fundamental technology development while at the same time implementing formal procedures.
“The PDR report points out some risks, which will need to be addressed through focused initiatives to minimise the risk before deployment of the full system in the Karoo, particularly the need to ensure that mechanical and structural tolerances can be achieved at reasonable cost and the need for continued care to avoid self-generated radio frequency interference,” says SKA SA.

However, the panel concluded there are no unacceptably high risks and that the project has a well-defined risk management structure that is well adhered to throughout the project.
“Now that the MeerKAT has passed this crucial milestone, tenders will be issued from October 2011 for the construction of the infrastructure for the telescope, including roads, power and optical fibre reticulation, buildings and foundations for the dishes,” says the SKA project office.

It says the telescope subsystems will now also proceed to develop detailed specifications to enable the development and procurement of these systems.
“The successful PDR has again confirmed that SA has world-class scientists, engineers and industries, which is why global leaders like Intel, IBM and Nokia Siemens Networks want to work with the team,” says project director for the SKA SA project Bernie Fanaroff.
“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. It has already strengthened the African bid, led by SA, to host the Square Kilometre Array.”

SKA SA says the KAT-7 telescope is reaching engineering completion. Commissioning and learning will be ongoing and an operational baseline will be established by the end of the year. With the completion of KAT-7, the project team will focus on the construction of the bigger MeerKAT.