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Construction begins at the world’s most powerful radio telescope

  • Construction has officially begun at the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) observatory in the Northern Cape.
  • The observatory will be a massive facility when construction completes and is expected to be the world’s most powerful radio telescope system.
  • So far R1.2 billion in contracts has been awarded to South African companies involved in the facility’s construction.

On-site construction has officially begun for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) observatory and its telescope infrastructure in Carnarvon, Northern Cape.

When complete, the project will see a massive observatory (covering one square kilometre) that comprises thousands of antennas and will unify existing technology at the nearby MeerKAT facility, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).

The construction was inaugurated by Higher Education, Science and Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who described the developments of the astrological observatory as a major innovation that will provide scientists with the data necessary to drive new discoveries in cosmology.

A project 30 years in the making, the SKA observatory has reportedly cost R1.2 billion in contracts for its construction, awarded to South African companies. A significant portion of the infrastructure at the facility is being built by Power Adenco Joint Venture, one such company, according to SA News.

The company is set to establish the observatory’s power infrastructure, fibre and roads after winning the largest contract offered by the project, amounting to around R890 million. Further contracts are expected to be offered as the build progresses.

There is also major international involvement in the project that will see what is expected to be the world’s most powerful radio astronomy telescope.

Australia will reportedly build 100 000 antennas as part of the array, with countries like the UK and China also providing technology for the facility. China is manufacturing telescope dishes to be used at the facility.

“SKA is pioneering, and in some ways unique international scientific project which demonstrates the power of multilateral collaboration in science to help us tackle the big challenges of humanity,” Mzimande told delegates at the inauguration.

“We owe a great deal to people who have worked incredibly hard to make this day possible, and it would not do justice to mention all.”

Nzimande added that local skills development will continue to be a priority. The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) will continue to invest R80 million per year to develop skills in South Africa and other African partner countries through bursary programmes.

To that end, SARAO is set to fund 100 bursary recipients per year targeting artisans, technicians, astronomers, engineers and data professionals.

[Image – Conner Baker on Unsplash]

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