Construction of the MeerKAT telescope is being extended to allow SA time to perfect the telescope technology in a bid to beat Australia in a competition to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
MeerKAT is SA’s demonstration telescope and is being constructed in two phases. It should be completely assembled by 2013/14. It forms part of SA’s bid to host the core of the Square Kilometre Array telescope.
SA and Australia were short-listed for the project in 2006 and the announcement of the winning county is expected before the end of next year. The SKA is expected to cost two billion euro and will be funded by international funders.
However, MeerKAT’s extension date still gives SA time to compete for the Square Kilometre Array, notes the Estimates of National Expenditure document, which accompanies finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget.
The telescope, which will cost a total of about R2 billion to build, will comprise about 80 dishes. A treasury official says that, because the winning announcement of the SKA host country has been delayed several times, SA has taken the opportunity to perfect the MeerKAT telescope.
He says the Department of Science and Technology is testing technologies that will hopefully be superior, and cheaper, than Australia’s.
Both SA and Australia are building demonstration telescopes to develop technology and align the projects with the expected scientific research outcomes. A seven-dish array prototype, KAT7, was completed in the 2009/10 financial year and cost R173 million.