Engineering

THE SOUTH AFRICAN RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY (SARAO) HOSTS THE MEERKAT RADIO TELESCOPE, SITUATED AT LOSBERG IN THE NORTHERN CAPE PROVINCE OF SOUTH AFRICA.

The MeerKAT radio telescope produces magnificent images

A High Performance Computing (HPC) system underpins the telescope. These systems provide state of the art performance at a particularly aggressive price point, providing innovative technology solutions.

SARAO is actively seeking partners and commercialisation opportunities within the HPC space, and is well positioned to offer transformative technologies at hitherto unachievable price points.

PORTFOLIO

The following provides some insight into the current and near-term SARAO HPC product portfolio.

HIGH PERFORMANCE HIGH CAPACITY STORAGE

Data Storage System – High Capacity (DSS-HC): As deployed in the MeerKAT science archive, this low cost, high capacity storage appliance is designed and manufactured in South Africa and offers significant cost saving over other commercially available solutions. It can also be customized for different applications. Combined with the high performance object storage software layer, large-scale turnkey deployments typically see a two to three times saving over a five year total cost of ownership compared to vendor solutions.

CEPH: CEPH is the software layer that underpins the massive storage deployed in the MeerKAT science archive. A large ecosystem of internally developed products complement the core CEPH architecture to provide a user friendly, easy to maintain solution to Peta-scale storage requirements.

Cascade (in development): Leveraging DSS-HC, Data Storage System – High Speed (DSS-HS) (all flash storage appliance) and the in-development tape library, we plan a fully tiered storage system from memory through to tape that will offer industry leading performance.

ENERGY EFFICIENT COMPUTE

IronHive (in development): A ruggedised, embedded computer system based microserver that provides exceptional energy efficiency, avoids the need for expensive data center infrastructure, and provides substantial in-band storage. The market for ruggedised designs is almost completely unserviced at this point, and an ecosystem of ruggedised compute and storage, able to operate in harsh environments, has enormous potential, particularly in the African context.

Efficient Design: Even without radical designs such as IronHive, there is much room for improvement in traditional HPC deployments. Our experience in architecting extremely cost effective and fit for purpose systems, provides a substantial competitive advantage and is a core focus of the systems integration offering.

ENERGY EFFICIENT STORAGE

Tape Library (in development): The last five years has seen a significant resurgence in tape as a cold, energy efficient medium for bulk data storage. Unfortunately many of the benefits of tapes are lost due to the high pricing for the robotised tape libraries and the cost of ongoing licenses. SARAO is well underway with an in-house tape library system, utilising off-the-shelf tape drives, that will realise five to ten times cost savings over a five year ownership period.

SOFTWARE

Platform Software (existing and in development): In addition to the basic software required to deliver a computer or storage system, there is a multitude of additional services that provide value to the customer. These include monitoring, logging, dashboards, schedulers and resource management. Again, SARAO has a significant catalogue of software products in this realm, and substantial experience to deploy and develop new products.

Applications (ongoing): The group is able to provide software consultancy, for co-design between user application and the delivered hardware to deliver exceptional efficiencies. In these situations we would provide software development effort to port applications and optimise code to suit the target platform.

For more information, contact:
SARAO Head: Engineering

While using the MeerKAT radio telescope to study a distant galaxy towards PKS 1830-211, scientists discovered something unexpected: gas clouds made up of some of the largest hydrogen atoms in the universe, Rydberg atoms. It is the first time scientists observed these hydrogen atoms in a distant galaxy. What’s more, they believe the large atoms are spread throughout the galaxy in ionized interstellar gas clouds. The discovery could help researchers to understand the nature and evolution of interstellar gas in galaxies and how Rydberg atoms are formed in space. An article reporting this discovery was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal (link).

Located in the constellation Sagittarius, PKS1830-211 is a very distant quasar 11.1 billion light years away (redshift 2.5). However, it is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky since the high-power jet from its super massive black hole is pointed directly at Earth. PKS 1830-211 is a hot spot for studying astrochemistry in the universe. The light from PKS 1830-211 passes through a foreground galaxy 7.3 billion light years distant (redshift 0.89) on its way to Earth, illuminating molecular chemistry in the spiral arms of the foreground galaxy. This rare alignment has allowed the large Hydrogen atoms to be observed.

A Rydberg atom refers to an atom with an electron in a high energy state. Radio light amplifies the Rydberg atoms. Under just the right conditions, the atoms become naturally occurring lasers, and light becomes brighter at the radio wavelengths emitted by the atoms. Finding just the right conditions for this to occur in distant galaxies has been a long standing mystery. But next-generation radio telescopes observing the Universe at cm to meter wavelengths are making it possible for the first time.

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope is currently the most sensitive radio telescope observing at these wavelengths. Large surveys that cover the sky using wide bandwidth receivers have high enough precision to look for spectral fingerprints from many wavelengths simultaneously. The MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey (MALS; https://mals.iucaa.in/) is one such survey which observes at 18 to 52 cm wavelengths. Because MALS is targeting the brightest radio sources in the sky, it is currently the most sensitive survey for detecting absorption signatures from hydrogen atoms (in the ground state) and molecules like OH – and unexpectedly, also the large Rydberg atoms.

Using the MALS survey, scientists found 44 fingerprints from Rydberg atoms. “We used hydrogen Rydberg atoms to study the physical and dynamic structures in a galaxy 7.3 billion light years away towards PKS 1830-211. The Rydberg atoms could be coming from large clouds of gas that are ionized by the radiation from young massive stars. These atoms tell us that interstellar gas in this galaxy is much more dense than what is found in the Milky Way,” says Kimberly Emig, a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) of USA and lead author of the paper.

Scientists hope to discover more of these oddball atoms. Emig explains, “We were excited to discover these high-excitation hydrogen atoms in such a distant galaxy. It gives a new way to observe our Universe and possibly study the evolution of interstellar gas in galaxies over cosmic time. They could also help us to understand how interstellar gas drives and inhibits the activity of super massive black holes.”

PKS 1830-211 was the first target of MALS. Its observations helped to characterize the performance of the new MeerKAT telescope.  The large volumes of MALS data (1.6 petabytes) are processed using an automated pipeline utilizing the task and tools based on the Common Astronomy Software Applications (CASA) package of NRAO, at a dedicated high performance computing facility setup at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), India.

The MALS survey primarily uses a transition of atomic hydrogen at 21 cm wavelengths and transitions from the hydroxyl (OH) molecule at 18 cm wavelengths in order to determine the occurrence of atomic and molecular gas in and around galaxies. “Only a small number of these transitions have been detected in distant galaxies so far due to technical limitations. If we detect a large number (several 100) of these transitions then we can assess the physical conditions of cold gas which serves as fuel for star formation in galaxies. Studying ionized gas through hydrogen Rydberg atoms is highly complementary to studying interstellar gas in its atomic and molecular phases and would help us to explain the changes in the properties of galaxies at different ages of the Universe,” explains Neeraj Gupta, astronomer at IUCAA  and lead investigator of the MALS project.

Making this discovery has been a team effort. The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory operates the MeerKAT telescope. An international collaboration from India, Europe, South Africa, North America, and Australia carries out the MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey. Data from the observations is processed through tools of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Thoughtworks Technologies India Pvt Ltd, among others.

Notes to Editors:

The scientific results of this study are published in:

Discovery of Hydrogen Radio Recombination Lines at z=0.89 towards PKS 1830-211 Kimberly L. Emig, Neeraj Gupta, Pedro Salas, Sebastien Muller, Sergei A. Balashev, Francoise Combes, Emmanuel Momjian, Yiqing Song, Preshanth Jagannathan, Partha P. Deka, Gyula I. G. Jozsa, Hans-Rainer Klockner, Abhisek Mohapatra, Pasquier Noterdaeme, Patrick Petitjean, Raghunathan Srianand, Jonah D. Wagenveld, 2023, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal

MeerKAT

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope, situated 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1. The MeerKAT telescope is an array of 64 interlinked receptors (a receptor is the complete antenna structure, with the main reflector, sub-reflector and all receivers, digitizers and other electronics installed).

MALS

MALS is the MeerKAT Absorption Line Survey. MALS consists of 1655 hrs of MeerKAT time (anticipated raw data ~ 1.7 PB) to carry out the most sensitive search of HI and OH absorption lines at 0 < z < 2, the redshift range over which most of the cosmic evolution in the star formation rate density takes place. The MALS survey is described in Gupta et al. (2016).

Key Science Themes of MALS:

  1. Evolution of atomic and molecular gas in galaxies and relationship with star formation rate density
  2. Fuelling of active galactic nucleus (AGN), AGN feedback and dust-obscured AGNs
  3. Variation of fundamental constants of physics
  4. Evolution of magnetic fields in galaxies, and
  5. Physical modeling of the ISM, Astrochemistry and Cosmology.

Attention all fellow space enthusiasts and radio astronomy fans!

We would like to extend a warm invitation for you to follow our Facebook page. Our page is a hub for all things related to radio astronomy and the latest developments in the field.

As a leader in the industry, we are dedicated to sharing the latest advancements and exciting discoveries with our followers. Whether you are a professional astronomer, a student, or just have a passion for the cosmos, our page is the perfect place for you to stay informed and connected.

We regularly post updates on the MeerKAT radio telescope and other observatories, as well as the latest scientific results and findings. You will also have access to behind-the-scenes photos and videos, as well as insights into the work that we do.

In addition to our commitment to sharing the latest news, we also value engagement with our followers. Our page is a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions with us.

So if you’re looking for a place to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in radio astronomy and connect with like-minded individuals, be sure to follow our company Facebook page. We look forward to seeing you there!

Click here to view our Facebook page

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Download Passive Radar System Flyer (pdf)

The Passive Radar System has been designed and built in collaboration with Peralex, a South African company specialising in the design, manufacturing and implementation of cutting edge solutions for modern Digital Signal Processing problems, predominantly in the field of radio spectrum monitoring. The Passive Radar System operated by SARAO is based on the ComRad system built by Peralex.

The Passive Radar System has been deployed to detect aircraft and airborne instruments not operating with transponders, which can be potentially damaging to the SARAO instruments such as the MeerKAT radio telescope, which contains very sensitive receivers. These include radio transponders, navigation equipment, communications equipment, weather radars, radio altimeters, and transmitters used in avionics, engine monitoring and controls; and passenger or mission equipment.

The Passive Radar System can mitigate the risks associated with airborne radio frequency interference by detecting and tracking aircraft, telescope schedule and pointing; and optimising telescope flag data. These interventions can be performed by the Passive Radar System without introducing a new transmitter to the area of use.

Other uses include tracking low-flying small aircraft and drones related to cross-border actions, including animal poaching and smuggling. It can also be used for air awareness for small aircraft during fly-inns and air shows and for small regional airports or airports without conventional radars.

Since 2018 SARAO has tested and rolled out the Passive Radio System to three sites in the Karoo in the Northern Cape – the Visserskloof in the north-east core of the region and De Hoek, in the west core of the region and Alkantpan to the North East of the site. The monitoring of the sites takes place from the SARAO Control Room and the Radio Frequency Interference office in Cape Town.

For more information on the Passive Radar System, contact:

Ms. Keitumetse Molamu – Head: Engineering & Technology Development

Email: enquiries@sarao.ac.za

 

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In ceremonies at both sites in Australia and South Africa, the SKA Observatory celebrated the start of construction of its world-leading radio telescopes and announced €300 million worth of construction contracts.

The SKAO’s Director-General, Prof. Philip Diamond, travelled to Western Australia to represent the Observatory at the site of the future SKA-Low telescope. Council Chair Dr Catherine Cesarsky attended the event in South Africa’s Northern Cape province where the SKA-Mid telescope will be located.

In her address, Dr Cesarsky said: “The SKA project has been many years in the making. Today, we gather here to mark another important chapter in this 30-year journey that we’ve been on together. A journey to deliver the world’s largest scientific instrument. After 18 months of intense activities around the world, we are starting construction of the SKA telescopes.”

Over the past 18 months, over 40 contracts worth more than €150 million have been entered into by the observatory. On Monday, major new construction contracts worth over €300 million were announced at the ceremonies.

Minister Ed Husic from Australia and South Africa’s Dr Blade Nzimande announced more than €200 million for Australian and South African companies to deliver some of the extensive infrastructure required for the telescopes.

The SKAO also announced the major contracts – worth €100 million – to manufacture the antennas for both telescopes, bringing the total amount of construction funds allocated so far by the observatory to close to €500 million.

Representatives of the communities surrounding the telescope sites had pride of place in both ceremonies. In Australia, guests received a traditional Welcome to Country from members of the Wajarri community, the SKA-Low site’s native title holders and Traditional Owners. Across the Indian Ocean, attendees witnessed a special “meerkat” version of the ancient riel dance around a newly-cast SKA dish foundation.

The construction commencement ceremonies took place 18 months after the SKAO’s Council approved the building of its two telescopes. Initial procurement concentrated on developing software, contracting professional services firms to help oversee construction, and bulk-buying components such as programmable circuit boards currently in short supply worldwide.

These 40 or so contracts paved the way for construction to start on site. In South Africa, this phase will eventually see 133 SKA dishes added to the existing 64 of the SKA-precursor telescope MeerKAT to form a mid-frequency instrument. Australia will host a low-frequency array of 131,072 antennas shaped like Christmas trees, allowing the two telescopes to cover a wide swath of radio frequencies.

The telescopes require vast infrastructure. Listed company Ventia will put up site-wide power and fibre infrastructure in the SKA-Low telescope’s core and spiral arms and fabricate and commission the central and remote processing facilities. In South Africa, the Power Adenco joint venture will construct gravel access roads, cast dish foundations, lay on power and optical fibre networks, erect security fencing, and more.

Competitive tendering also took place to procure the telescopes’ lead components: the antennas and dishes themselves. On Friday 2 December, the SKAO finalised the two contracts for these critical hardwares.

Italian company SIRIO will build the low-frequency antennas for the SKA-Low telescope in Western Australia, with important participation from the UK. In China, one of the Observatory’s long-term partners, CETC54, will manufacture the SKA-Mid telescope’s dish structure. Parts will be produced in several countries, including Italy, Spain, and South Africa.

In their announcements, the science ministers elaborated on the contractual conditions that the SKAO placed on infrastructure providers to include local communities.

In South Africa, the lead infrastructure contractor is required to spend a proportionate amount locally by providing a range of sub-contract opportunities to local SMMEs, on employing, training and transferring skills locally and on other community development initiatives.

In Australia, the aim is to create nearly 100 new roles for the Wajarri Yamaji and locals in the Mid West region of Western Australia.

The Indigenous Land Use Agreement recently signed between the Wajarri Yamaji and the Australian federal and Western Australian governments as well as CSIRO, expanded Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory to enable construction of the SKA telescope there.

The agreement ensures that Wajarri Yamaji cultural heritage will stay protected and that they will receive sustainable and intergenerational benefits in areas such as enterprise and training and education. About 400 km of ground was surveyed to map areas of cultural significance, and the layout of the SKA telescope array was amended to avoid significant Wajarri heritage sites.

In recognition of the agreement, the Wajarri gifted the site the traditional name – Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, meaning “sharing the sky and stars”.

“We want to be good neighbours to all of the local stakeholders where our infrastructure is located,” said Prof. Diamond. “It’s important that we play our part in supporting the local economy as well as the national one, and we’re doing our small part to ensure this is the case. For example, we’ve instructed infrastructure contractors to ensure local businesses are engaged and benefit from those contracts as well.”

With its large infrastructure and telescope component contracts in place, the SKAO is on track to reach its next milestone: ensuring that the first four SKA-Mid dishes and six SKA-Low stations (of 256 antennas each) work together as a telescope.

The first two antenna stations are due to be completed by May 2023, while the first dish is set to be installed in April 2024, followed by three to four dishes each month.

Procuring mass-produced dishes and antennas represents a step-change for radio astronomy. Instead of bespoke and one-off components, manufacturers can develop new techniques to produce such elements, potentially offering new product lines.

Thanks to the telescopes’ design as interferometers – where the signals of multiple telescopes are combined to act as one giant telescope – the first notable scientific results can be expected before the telescopes are completed at the end of the decade.

The SKA telescopes will be managed from the SKAO’s Global Headquarters at Jodrell Bank near Manchester in the United Kingdom. Scientists will use the two arrays over the course of their expected 50-year lifespan to answer crucial questions about the earliest epochs of the universe, and unravel some of the most profound mysteries in astrophysics.

“The SKA telescopes will truly revolutionise our understanding of the universe,” said Dr Cesarsky. “They will allow us to study its evolution and some of its most mysterious phenomena in unprecedented detail, and that’s really exciting for the scientific community.”

 

Resources

You’ll find artists’ impressions of the future telescope, pictures and video material of the ceremonies, as well as ministerial and other supporting statements in our online repository, and a dedicated webpage with more material on our website.

 

More comments

SKA-Low Site Construction Director, Ant Schinckel: “This event marks a wonderful milestone for the SKA Observatory and the world’s science community. We are about to begin building the world’s largest radio telescopes, and here in Australia, we are doing it with the support and close cooperation of some of the oldest astronomers in the world, the Wajarri people. I am excited to start constructing the SKA-Low telescope on this ancient land, so ideally suited for radio astronomy.”

Wajarri Yamaji Nyarlu (Wajarri Yamaji Aboriginal Corporation Chairperson), Jennylyn Hamlett: “We’re all connected to this Country, regardless of where we come from. We are Wajarri, we are here and we’re ready to share, so welcome aboard.”

 

SKA-Mid Site Construction Director, Tracy Cheetham: “Forming part of SARAO’s successful design and delivery of the SKA precursor MeerKAT has been incredibly rewarding. Now the moment has arrived that I’ve been working towards for the largest part of my career: managing the on-site construction of the SKA-Mid telescope under the SKAO banner. The scale of the science infrastructure investment so far provides a crucial foundation for the SKA project in South Africa. The SKA-Mid telescope promises to be of benefit to the country, global science, and our local communities that have played an instrumental role in preparing for and achieving this milestone.”

 

Ventia Group Executive – Telecommunications Mark Ralston: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the SKAO on this exciting and world-leading endeavour. To support the delivery of this project, nearly 100 new roles will be created for the Wajarri people and locals in the Mid West region of Western Australia. As Australia and New Zealand’s leading telecommunications infrastructure service provider, our strategy is to redefine service excellence by being client-focused, innovative and sustainable.”

 

SIRIO Antenne CEO, Stefania Grazioli: “We are honoured to take part in this exciting and challenging scientific project. Since 2017 we have been working and collaborating intensely with INAF and the SKAO to develop a product that could best fulfil characteristics and performances suitable to satisfy such an important task and it’s incredible how the project on paper has finally become true. This experience was extremely important for Sirio to learn how to act with large and structured international organisations. The company and the people involved in the project have had a very important opportunity to grow in experience and know-how, so we are more than proud to be part of this great project and we will do our best to be a good partner for SKAO.”

 

Chief Executive Adenco Construction, Kashif Wicomb: “The SKA project is truly a project of global importance and literally universal impact. Adenco Construction is proud to be associated with and working on the SKA project and being part of a South Africa and Africa based project working with a team of international experts.”

 

Power Construction CEO, Cobus Snyman: “It is an honour and a privilege for us at Power Construction to be a part of this prestigious project, which is set to benefit not only our company, but more importantly, improve the lives of the surrounding communities as well as our understanding of the universe. We take exceptional pride in what we do and how we do it. We are therefore looking forward in working with our partner Adenco Construction, the professional team as well as the communities to deliver this world class project for SKAO.”

 

CETC SKA Office Vice Director, Wang Feng: “The start of construction of the SKA telescopes and signature of the dish structure agreement marks a great milestone. The CETC54 team is honoured to take part in this mega science project. I would like to express my thanks to everyone involved in making this possible, from our technical team and cooperation partners from South Africa, Germany and Italy to the colleagues and friends from SKAO and the Ministry of Science and Technology. Without their help and support, none of this would be possible. The high performance of the SKA dish is the result of many years of Chinese research and development combined with international cooperation.”

 

Supporting statements

Member countries

Australia: Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic

“The cutting-edge technology for the SKA telescopes will expose Australian businesses to new skills and capabilities. We will see these changes flow on to benefit the community, the businesses involved in the project, and Australia, more broadly, for generations to come. We should all be proud of our involvement in this project. This is a historic day, and I am sure we will see many breakthroughs from the SKA project.”

South Africa: Minister of Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande

“On behalf of the South African government and its people, I congratulate the SKA Observatory on effectively managing the complex process of planning and designing the SKA telescopes. I also wish to congratulate SKAO in managing the complex intergovernmental interactions that resulted in the formation of the SKAO itself and the signing of the hosting agreements with Australia and South Africa. I therefore try to also reaffirm South Africa’s commitment to the SKA project, and pledge South African government’s continued support for the SKA Observatory as it moves into our country to continue managing the process of construction of the SKA. The official start of on site construction of the SKAO telescopes is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate excellence and multilateral collaboration in science and acknowledge the SKAO’s strong bonds with its partner nations. Moreover, this important milestone heralds a new chapter of direct relationships between SKA Observatory and the local communities around the telescope sites, in particular building on years of work in community engagement by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory. The South African government welcomes the opportunities that will flow into the country, due to the construction activities of the SKA. Local companies will benefit from construction contracts [and] local people will find jobs. The financial resources flowing into the country will also uplift the economy of South Africa.” (Full statement available online.)

China: Minister of Science and Technology, Wang Zhigang

“The construction commencement ceremony is a great milestone in the development of SKAO and also the remarkable result of the long-term concerted efforts of all participating countries. In this global collaboration and endeavour on astronomical science and technology, all countries display both cooperative attitudes and pragmatic action to stay open and inclusive and seek common development. On behalf of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, I’d like to extend warm congratulations on the commencement of construction at the SKA sites in South Africa and Australia of the next-generation SKA telescopes. Science is not bound by national borders, and innovation is a never-ending endeavour. As an important carrier to strengthen international science and technology cooperation and deepen bilateral and multilateral intergovernmental exchanges, international mega-science projects are important tools for mankind to push the frontiers of knowledge, explore the unknown and address important global issues. The SKA telescopes, an international mega-science project integrating basic sciences and cutting-edge technologies, such as radio astronomy, fundamentals of physics, mathematics and modelling, communication technology and big data, provides a major opportunity for mankind to better understand the universe. China will continue to fulfill its commitments and contribute wisdom and strength to the SKA project. Our country is willing to join hands with all participating countries in global collaboration, jointly constructing, delivering, and sharing the world’s largest synthesised aperture radio telescope to explore the vast universe and create a better future for mankind.” (Full statement available online.)

Italy: Minister of University and Research, Anna Maria Bernini  

“Finally, the SKA radio telescope is no longer a mere project but a reality. The largest telescope in the world, with thousands of antennas spread across two continents, is destined to define our present and our future. It is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken, and I am particularly proud to be able to say that this project is very much tied to Italy. Right from the onset, Italy has played a leading role through its National Institute of Astrophysics. Italy contributes to the project not only financially and in terms of technology but, first and foremost, through its excellent human resources. Something in which we are leaders. The SKA Observatory is a demonstration that Italy has all the resources to participate fully in space exploration from the ground. This is truly an extraordinary endeavour. We are taking a fundamental step towards a broader understanding of the laws that govern the universe. And perhaps also towards broadening our view of the World. As our Latin ancestors would say, ‘per aspera ad astra’. My best wishes for a fruitful exploration.”

Netherlands: Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf  

“The Netherlands has a long tradition in radio astronomy and contributed to the SKA radio telescope from the beginning – thirty years ago. Today marks an important milestone with the beginning of the construction on the two sites in Australia and South Africa. We are extremely proud to be a founding member of this remarkable prestigious research project that is at the very cutting edge of research. By investing in this important experiment, we are not only contributing to our understanding of the universe, but are also contributing to the greater benefit of society by stimulating global collaboration and innovation.”

Switzerland: State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation, Martina Hirayama

“Switzerland would like to congratulate the host states on the start of construction of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory. As the host country of CERN, Switzerland is pleased to be part of this great intergovernmental, scientific and technological endeavour and is looking forward to the scientific community having access to the SKA. Great challenges lie ahead, but I trust that together we will be able to meet them. I am convinced that the SKA will allow us to achieve scientific breakthroughs, which will enable us to expand the boundaries of our knowledge.”

United Kingdom: Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, George Freeman

“This is an incredibly exciting and important moment, both for space science, but also for the increasingly commercial space sector, and for the communion of countries, nations working together to ensure that we build an open, integrated, safe space for science and the space economy going forward. So congratulations to all of those who’ve helped to make this possible. We are as the UK very proud to be one of the three host partners of the SKA Observatory and I’d like to congratulate colleagues in South Africa and Australia on achieving this latest milestone and helping us to bring one step closer operation of this really exciting observatory. After construction completion, the two complementary telescopes will be the ears on either side of the planet allowing us to listen to those murmurings from the deep universe, which are driving such excitement in both science and deeper our understanding of the universe in which we live and the origins of life. As the home of the control centre for the Observatory, the UK is helping lay the foundation for new galaxy-level discoveries through radio astronomy. Scientists, engineers and researchers across UK industry and academia are working to deliver the working brain if you like behind these two telescopes, the software systems which make space observations possible and allow us to make sense of what we see and hear. All of these efforts help to channel more funds, jobs, careers, opportunities and innovation, both into the UK economy, but just as importantly, into the global commercial space science and space economy.”

 

Observer countries

France: Director General for Research and Innovation – French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, Claire Giry

“Starting the construction of a very large infrastructure like SKA is a major milestone which is illustrative of the soundness of the scientific ambition, of the high quality of the project and of the excellent achievements of SKAO with the support of the radio astronomical community. France congratulates SKAO for this key step for the project and feels very enthusiastic with the commencement of the construction. This event gives an excellent opportunity to recall the commitment of France to contribute to the construction and scientific exploitation of SKA.”

South Korea: President of Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Dr Young-Deuk Park

“The Korean astronomical community is greatly excited to see this construction commencement, which will be a historic moment for the SKA project. I would like to take this opportunity to deliver our gratitude from Korean astronomers to local communities around the telescope sites who allowed for the SKA telescopes to be built on their lands. Congratulations to all SKAO staff and SKAO committee members on another important milestone following the successful IGO transition and project launch. Your achievements are a result of hard work, determination and constant efforts which motivate observer countries including South Korea. As a long-time observer of the SKA project, which is building the world’s largest radio telescope through international cooperation, KASI hopes to be able to provide concrete ways to participate in this transformational science opportunity in the near future. I send my warmest congratulations on the construction commencement. I wish you continued success in the future endeavours for SKA.”

 

Spain: Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant

“After so many years of study and design work, witnessing the commencement of the construction of the SKA is like seeing a dream come true. For Spain, our participation in SKA is a strategic investment of high priority, as it will be one of the most important scientific infrastructures in the world for decades. We are delighted to be part, with our partners, in this great adventure, to see our industry actively participating in the construction, and to guarantee our scientists access to an Observatory that will be the scene of great discoveries.”

About the SKAO

The SKAO, formally known as the SKA Observatory, is an intergovernmental organisation composed of Member States from five continents and headquartered in the UK. Its mission is to build and operate cutting-edge radio telescopes to transform our understanding of the Universe, and deliver benefits to society through global collaboration and innovation.

Its two telescopes, each composed of hundreds of dishes and thousands of antennas, will be constructed in South Africa and Australia and be the two most advanced radio telescopes on Earth. A later expansion is envisioned in both countries and other African partner countries.

Together with other state-of-the-art research facilities, the SKAO’s telescopes will explore the unknown frontiers of science and deepen our understanding of key processes, including the formation and evolution of galaxies, fundamental physics in extreme environments and the origins of life. Through the development of innovative technologies and its contribution to addressing societal challenges, the SKAO will play its part to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and deliver significant benefits across its membership and beyond.

The SKAO recognises and acknowledges the Indigenous peoples and cultures that have traditionally lived on the lands on which the SKAO facilities are located. In Australia, the SKAO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the Traditional Owners and native title holders of Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.


Media contacts

SKAO

William Garnier
Director of Communications, Outreach & Education
+44 78149 08932
william.garnier@skao.int

Anim van Wyk
Media Relations Manager
+44 7871 741 543
media@skao.int

SOUTH AFRICA

SARAO

Khulu Phasiwe
Head: Communication & Science Engagement
+27 72 263 8749
k.phasiwe@sarao.nrf.ac.za

DSI

Buhle Khumalo
Chief Director: Science Communication
+27 82 990 1685
Buhle.Khumalo@dst.gov.za

AUSTRALIA

CSIRO

Gabby Russell
Communication Manager, Space, Astronomy and Scientific Computing
+612 9490 8002
gabby.russell@csiro.au

DISR

Bob Eccles
Assistant Manager, Australian SKA Office
+61 02 6102 8403
Bob.Eccles@industry.gov.au

The Commercialisation unit at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) recently hosted the exciting Karoo Innovation Challenge, in a bid to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and collaboration.

The Challenge is a subprogram of the Karoo Enterprise Development Program managed by the SARAO Commercialisation unit, generating innovative ideas that provide solutions to pressing societal issues. The event, which took place from Monday, 14 November to Friday, 18 November 2022 at the Sassa Hall in Carnarvon, saw 20 finalists from Carnarvon, Williston, Brandvlei, Van Wyksvlei and Prieska being given the opportunity to pitch their business ideas and stand a chance to receive grant funding.

The top three finalists walked away with cash prizes. The 1st prize winner, Patricia Hartnick, received a grant to the value of R30 000, the 1st runner-up, Lizahn Esterhuizen received a grant to the value of R20 000, and the 2nd runner-up, Stephanie de Wee, won a grant to the value of R10 000. The grants are intended to be applied towards advancing their businesses. In addition, all 20 finalists received pitch training from the National Youth Development Agency in collaboration with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and will receive incubation and business support starting from January 2023.

“I would like to thank the judges from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and SEDA for volunteering their time to provide guidance and support to these young innovators. A big thank you to the guest judges who are pillars in their respective communities who will also act as mentors to these young entrepreneurs. A special thanks goes to the Northern Cape SMME Trust that donated R15 000 towards the Innovation Challenge, and lastly to SARAO that made this event a success,” said Apiwe Hotele, Senior Commercialisation Specialist for SARAO.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), a facility of the National Research Foundation, is responsible for managing all radio astronomy initiatives and facilities in South Africa, including the MeerKAT radio telescope in the Karoo, and the Geodesy and VLBI activities at the HartRAO facility.

Back row: MJ Maczali, Mayor of the Kareeberg Municipality, Judy Moalkwa, Assistant Director at the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, Ashley Slambee, SMME owner from Brandvlei, Hendrieka Royen, SMME owner from Williston, Aphiwe Hotele,Senior Commercialisation Specialist at SARAO, Stefanus Tieties, SMME owner from Van Wyksvlei, Wongama Ngonyama SEDA and Ursula Motsage from the Department of Economic Development and Training.
Front row: 1st runner-up Lizahn Esterhuizen, 1st prize winner Patricia Hartnick and 2nd runner-up Stephanie de Wee.

Radio telescopes work in much the same way as your normal radio. As you tune your radio to different frequencies, the receiver in your radio picks up different music stations. The big difference is that radio telescopes collect cosmic radio waves from outer space. These radio signals are processed by computers that can interpret the signals to form images that give us snapshots of the Universe.

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