First Meerkat support structure completed

6 February 2014

The first dish support structure for the Meerkat radio telescope, manufactured by South African company Tricom Structures, is ready to be transported to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) site in Carnavon in the Northern Cape.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, which is to be co-hosted by South Africa and Australia.

The 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope is due to come online in 2016 both as a precursor to the SKA and as one of the most powerful telescopes in the world in its own right.

Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria on Wednesday, Tricom Structures CEO Sihle Shange said the massive steel structure was expected to be transported from Pretoria, where the company is based, to Carnavon before the end of the month.

The structure weighs about 25 tons and will need two or more abnormal-load trucks to transport it, Shange said.

He said Tricom would be assembling all 64 structures for the Meerkat telescope at a rate of two a month, adding that he was confident that the company would meet the 2016 deadline.

“We have design capability and we are confident that everything will be smooth,” he said, adding that they would create more jobs should there be a need.

Each structure will have to provide exceptionally stable support for a 13.5 x 16 metre main reflector dish standing at a height of 19 metres in the face of winds capable of gusting at up to 144 kilometres an hour.

The MeerKAT is due to be commissioned in 2014/15, and to come online for science operations in 2016. It will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere until the Square Kilometre Array itself is completed around 2024. Leading radio astronomy teams from around the globe having already signed up to use the instrument.

SAnews.gov and SAinfo reporter