SKA to generate Engineering opportunities

satellite-dish-by-antpkr.jpgThe South African SKA site in the Karoo, between Carnarvon and Williston is currently a hub of construction activity, and plans are on track to deliver the 64 MeerKAT antennas by the end of 2016.

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 is due to come online in 2016 as one of the most powerful telescopes in the world in its own right.

Contractors are busy on infrastructure – building roads, an all-weather landing strip and massive sheds. These sheds are where MeerKAT’s radio telescope dishes will be constructed.

A very special bunker called the Karoo Array Processor Building is taking shape 5 metres underground. The on-site facility houses the centralised telescope equipment for the Karoo Array Telescope- (KAT-) 7 and MeerKAT. This will store all the data processing racks, power and back-up equipment for MeerKAT.

Africa's share of the iconic SKA project means that the continent is set to become a sought-after science destination. Over the next decades, many top scientists and research students will come here to do cutting-edge science. The SKA construction will boost skills development in the fields of science and technology in SA and the rest of Africa as well.

The MeerKAT project has been described as the most exciting cm-wave telescope construction project underway on the planet and will certainly attract young people to careers in science and engineering.

Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape, where the core of the SKA will be situated, are already experiencing benefits for their scholars. Two laboratories were recently opened at Carnarvon High School thanks, in part, to the SKA SA project.

The SKA SA project says it has committed to helping build up educational resources in the area, forming partnerships with the private sector to support local schools, and working closely with the Northern Cape Department of Education.

The technologies developed by the SKA will also be utilised in other sectors of the economy. Reconfigurable open architecture computing hardware (ROACH) boards and field-programmable gate arrays can be used for high-speed data processing, digital signal processing (important for the migration to digital TV), data storage and high-performance computing.

The SKA presents huge opportunities for young men and women in Africa to be the engineers, computer scientists and astrophysicists that will make the technology happen and produce the transformational science outcomes that will only be possible with the SKA.

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Credit: by antpkr