As 9 Southern African nations wait for a decision on whether they will win the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, engineers are confident that the MeerKAT will go ahead.
"MeerKAT gets built, whether we win the SKA or not. If we win the SKA, things will change and we will have to re-plan a bit, but what we did was to align MeerKAT pretty close to the mainstream SKA thinking so that we'll be in a position to expand MeerKAT into an SKA Phase 1," according toMeerKAT project manager, Willem Esterhuyse.
MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) will consist of 64 linked radio dishes near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province and will, in niche areas, be the most sensitive instrument of its kind.
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said that MeerKAT was a boost for astronomy in Africa.
"We will build MeerKAT, but we have an exciting initiative that we're currently trying to promote on the continent. That of building a VLBI [Very Long Baseline Interferometer] of radio satellites connected across the African continent and linking in to the VLBI network in Europe as well as the Americas," Pandor told News24.
In 2011, a design review praised the development of the MeerKAT as well as the site in the Karoo which has been designated a radio reserve by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007.
"We've got a green light for MeerKAT. In July of last year we had our system PDR [preliminary design review]. We had an international panel of experts; they were very complimentary of our efforts so far and we're out on tender now for some of the infrastructure components," Esterhuyse said.
Tenders for the construction of more roads and a landing strip on site has been put out and the infrastructure on the site is being developed.
Coordination is provided by ISC Intelligence in Science as one of the initiators of AERAP, together with the South African Mission to the EU.
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