While construction on the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is set to start in 2016, the precursor MeerKAT array being built in South Africa already shows the project’s impressive scale.
South Africa tied with Australia in its bid to host the SKA project back in 2012. The scientific consortium behind the project opted for a dual-site approach, with the majority of dishes being built in South Africa.
Construction on the array is expected to start in 2016, and be completed in 2024 before moving on to the SKA 2. This first phase is being built on a 650 million euro (R11.07 billion) budget.
The final SKA will encompass thousands of radio telescopes in three unique configurations that will – as the name suggests – cover a square kilometer of collecting area.
When completed, the SKA will be 50 times more sensitive and 10,000 faster than the best radio telescopes we have today. It will have the capacity to produce images with resolution quality 50 times higher than the Hubble Space Telescope.
However, South Africa had already designed and built seven dishes known as the KAT-7, which is an engineering prototype for the MeerKAT. This has been boosted to twelve dishes erected.
The MeerKAT telescope – a precursor and pathfinder to the SKA – will ultimately be made up of 64 dishes by the end of 2016, and will be integrated into the SKA.
Another 64 dishes will be added by the end of 2018, according to the most recent timeline projections.
The project is currently in the design process for the SKA1-MID, the next phase of the complete SKA. Construction on this phase is expected to start in 2018 when the MeerKAT starts its “full science” stage.
In February, SKA South Africa announced that Dr Fernando Camilo, a former senior research scientist at Columbia University in New York, will be joining the project as Chief Scientist on 1 April 2016.
The group also announced that it had received a donation worth over R40 million European Union Horizon 2020 Funding to undertake the detailed design of infrastructure and power elements in South Africa.
The SKA project in South Africa has released new images of the MeerKAT setup, showing the impressive scale and engineering behind the array.
All images courtesy of SKA South Africa