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SKA, MeerKAT link up

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Data connectivity between the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) SA Cape Town office and the MeerKAT telescope site went live for the first time.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) says this interim data link has a capacity of 10Mbps.

“The 10Mbps link was commissioned by the South African National Research Network (Sanren) on behalf of the SKA SA project, and will be managed by Tenet.”

This interim link is an important milestone for the SKA SA project, according to the department, as the commissioning and operation of the KAT-7 radio telescope - an engineering prototype for MeerKAT - can now take place from the SKA SA Engineering headquarters in Cape Town.

“This will reduce the engineering and commissioning team's travelling time from Cape Town to the Karoo considerably.”

Shared link

The data link comprises a 48-fibre cable from the MeerKAT site complex to the SKA SA point of presence station, and interfaces with 5x1 984Mbps bonded links to Cape Town, says the DST.

It says implementation of the long-term link is expected to be completed by the end of June 2011.

“The shared 10Gbps link [with the Southern African Large Telescope] will cater for the full MeerKAT bandwidth requirements in future.”

Bandwidth requirements for the SKA are far greater, according to SKA SA project manager Bernie Fanaroff.

“Very large bandwidth is required for the SKA. We're talking about hundreds of terabits per second. That's more than SA's entire traffic. It's more than America's entire traffic.”

Fanaroff says this is a challenge that SA has to overcome to beat Australia in the bid to host the telescope.

Power outage

The DST also says the KAT-7 telescope is now powered by a new grid power line, which is currently being operated at 22kV.

It adds that this will be switched over to 33kV once the upgrade to the Karoo substation has been completed in March 2012.

“Once the voltage regulators have been installed, final Eskom acceptance testing will take place to verify that the design conforms to all Eskom standards and SKA radio frequency interference requirements, which were defined by the project in the grid design report.”

Backup power is also provided to the radio telescope and buildings on site in the case of an Eskom outage, says the department.

The final decision regarding the successful host country for the SKA telescope is expected in 2012, with work due to start in 2013. Operations will start in 2015, provided a significant portion of the array has been commissioned.

The SKA will consist of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies, with a core of about 2 000 antennae. These stations will be spread over a vast area of up to 3 000km.

The core of the telescope will be located in Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape, with about three antenna stations in Namibia, four in Botswana and one each in Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Each antenna station will consist of about 30 to 40 individual antennae.

At an estimated construction cost of $2 billion, the SKA is poised to be by far the largest radio telescope in the world, and consolidate Africa as a major hub for astronomy in the world, says the DST.

The design and construction of the MeerKAT, an operational demonstrator telescope, is a core component of the country's bid to host the SKA, says the DST.

The MeerKAT will be one of the largest scientific research facilities in the world.

It will consist of 64 dishes, each 13.5m in diameter. An engineering test bed of seven dishes is already complete.

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