Science and technology


South Africans to play key role in SKA design

6 November 2013

South African scientists are to lead two of the 10 teams involved in the design of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, the international SKA Organisation announced on Monday.

The SKA's global partners have committed 120-million to the three-year design phase, which will involve more than 350 scientists representing 18 nations and drawn from nearly 100 institutions.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, to be co-located in South Africa and Australia.

SKA South Africa said in a statement on Monday that the telescope's design had been broken down into various modules called "work packages". Each of these packages, of which SKA South Africa has been selected to lead two, will be managed by a team of international experts.

Dr Richard Lord, of SKA South Africa, will head up the team that deals with the "assembly, integration and verification" element, which involves the planning of activities at the sites needed to incorporate the SKA into existing infrastructure.

Tracy Cheetham, also of SKA South Africa, will head up the team charged with all the infrastructure-related work for the telescope.

In addition, various South African companies and universities are playing key roles in the design of numerous elements of the other work packages, including dishes, telescope manager, science data processors, central signal processors and signal and data transport.

SKA SA general manager for science computing and innovation, Jasper Horrell, told Business Day that seven South African companies and two local universities were involved in the design work at this stage.

Professor John Womersley, chairman of the SKA board, said in a statement: "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."

Deploying thousands of radio telescopes, in three unique configurations, the SKA will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence. It will be able to detect very faint radio signals emitted shortly after the Big Bang.

The international SKA organisation has 10 member countries: Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK. India is an associate member.

SAinfo reporter

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