Major MeerKAT tender awarded

7 August 2009

South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array project team has awarded a R46-million contract to build a specialised overhead power line and fibre-optic cable system for the MeerKAT radio telescope to local company Optic 1.

The MeerKAT (also known as the Karoo Array Telescope) will operate 24 hours a day for 20 to 30 years, and will need up to four megawatts of power when the instrument is fully operational.

Completion of the construction of MeerKAT is scheduled for December 2012, with commissioning in 2013. The MeerKAT telescope is a precursor instrument to the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be built either in South Africa or Australia.

Optic 1 is a leader in the field of supplying and securing power lines.

“The power line has required a unique design, sophisticated hardware and metering equipment, as well as novel insulation and bonding methods, to suppress any radio waves that may interfere with the sensitive receivers of the MeerKAT,” SKA South Africa infrastructure manager Tracy Cheetham said in a statement this week.

Karoo substation upgrade

The new 33 kV power line will run from the Karoo substation just outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape to the SKA site about 80 kilometres away. Once complete, the new overhead line will be operated and maintained by state company Eskom.

Installation of the power line will kick off with the construction of 73.5 kilometres of wooden pole structure from Carnarvon to the site, followed by 35 kilometres of steel monopole structures to the core of the SKA site.

The transition from wooden pole structures to steel pole structures provides better earthing, an important design consideration to reduce sparking that could cause unwanted radio frequency interference.

The new transmission line will initially be operated at 22 kV and should be complete by December 2009. The second phase of the project entails the upgrade of the Karoo substation from 5 MVA to 10 MVA, and operating the new transmission line at 33 kV.

“We are investigating a hybrid final power solution for MeerKAT that will combine the use of grid power with solar energy,” Cheetham said.

The Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University, along with a team from Hatch Africa, are currently doing a feasibility study on supplying concentrated solar power to MeerKAT.

Fibre optic connection

The telescope will be connected to a control centre in Cape Town by an optical fibre cable, and this tender includes the construction of the optical fibre from Carnarvon to the site. The fibre-optic cable will be operated by state-owned connectivity provider Broadband Infraco.

“This is a great challenge and one of our most remarkable projects ever,” said Dirk Van der Westhuizen, technical director of Optic 1, which is based in Brits in North West province.

“We are delighted to be a part of building the MeerKAT telescope, a project that all South Africans can be proud of.”

SAinfo reporter

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