As the SKA is expected to last in excess of 30 years, it is important that the materials used in the construction of the telescope go the distance. With the SKA, accuracy is of the highest importance and the materials should not deteriorate, warp or deviate even one centimetre from its original shape and form.
The task of testing the composite materials used in the construction of the MeerKAT antennae dishes was assigned to the CSIR's metals and metals processes researchers. In the CSIR's mechanical testing and creep testing labs, various tests were performed in an initial round, with more tests to follow.
"These tests included the strength of the material, its fatigue life, extended load bearing and creep (or shape change over time). A second round of tests will include the material's weathering ability, especially taking into account the harsh environmental elements in the Karoo that it would be exposed to over an extended period of time," explains the CSIR's Dr Willie du Preez.
The key component of the receiving antennas of the MeerKAT is the receiving array. It has to be sensitive enough to detect weak signals and capable of receiving a broad spectrum of signals across a wide area of sky. As part of a Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) flagship project, Prof David Davidson of Stellenbosch University undertook the simulation of the electromagnetic behaviour of both the receiving array and the dish to improve the design and performance. The CHPC is part of the national cyberinfrastructure initiative funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
In October 2010, the CSIR announced the selection of a Neotel/Broadband Infraco partnership to install a 10 Gigabit per second network to the South African Large Telescope (SALT) and Square Kilometre Array (SKA) sites in the Northern Cape.
This network is a component of the South African National Research Network (SANReN), which is also funded by the DST as another part of its national cyberinfrastructure initiative. SANReN is implemented by the CSIR.
The network will connect both the SALT and SKA sites to SANReN's national backbone network in Cape Town; projected time for completion of the project is 6-10 months.
Commenting on this development, DST Chief Director: Emerging Research Areas and Infrastructure, Dr Daniel Adams, said, "The installation of the circuit to the SKA site close to the town of Carnavon will provide further proof that South Africa can provide the bandwidth needed to fulfil the requirements of the full SKA, and will serve as a significant boost to the South African SKA bid."
Australia and southern Africa have been identified as the two shortlisted sites for the SKA and a decision as to the winner of the SKA bid is expected in 2012.