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South Africa chalks up role in SKA design phase

Seven South African companies and two South African universities provide some of the 350 scientists and engineers selected to join in the final push for designing the world’s largest radio telescope.

The Square Kilometre Array project entered the €120 million (US$161m) pre-construction phase on 4 November by announcing the teams who will be responsible for its final design.

The telescope array, which will have a combined receiving area of more than a square kilometre, will be split between Africa and Australia.

SKA South Africa has been selected to lead two consortia in the pre-construction phase:

The assembly, integration and  verification consortium will plan all activities at the remote sites necessary to incorporate old antennae into the SKA. This does not include design of new components of the SKA. Richard Lord of SKA South Africa will lead the consortium.

The task of the infrastructure consortium includes services and facilities needed to deploy and operate the SKA in Australia and South Africa, such as roads and power. INFRA-SA is lead by Tracy Cheetham of SKA South Africa.

“Our Consortium is thrilled to be part of a global mega-science project and excited by the design challenges presented by the SKA. We hope to add great value with the experience gained on the design and construction of the SKA pathfinders,” Cheetham said in a statement.

Jasper Horrell, general manager of science computing and innovation at SKA South Africa, says South Africa plays leading roles in many of the other consortia. These include the science processing consortium working on computer hardware and the dish design consortium.

Acording to Horrell, SKA SA has committed the equivalent of 24 full-time engineers and scientists to the design effort, spread over a larger number of people.

He says South Africa has committed a total of R135 million (US$13m) to the pre-construction phase. He declined to name the South African universities and companies taking part in the pre-construction phase, because the negotiations are not yet finalised.