Northern Cape Business 2022-23

Page 38


Engineering Local artisans are building telescopes. SECTOR INSIGHT The Department of Roads and Public Works is to be remodelled.

The HERA radio telescope near Carnarvon. Credit: SARAO


ocal artisans are building telescopes for a radio telescope array project in the Northern Cape. Drawn from the town of Carnarvon, the construction team grew to 20 at one point and has increased the skill levels of its members considerably. The 350-dish HERA project is led by the US National Science Foundation with the South Africa Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) acting as the local partner, responsible for systems engineering and construction, among other duties. The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) is gathering data from a time in history further away from the present time than has ever been explored. The project should be complete in 2022 but data continues to be collected while construction continues. The HERA is a separate project to the much bigger Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is under construction nearby. The construction timeline of the technically demanding and scientifically advanced SKA project is eight years, giving ample opportunity for specialist engineers to deploy their skills. International teams, including South African engineers and scientists, have worked on the design phase of the latest in radio astronomy for many years, the result of which will see 197 dishes erected in South Africa (mostly around Carnarvon) and 131 072 antennas put up in Australia. South Africa has already erected 64 dishes, which make up the MeerKAT device. In South Africa, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the National Research Foundation, manages all radio astronomy initiatives and facilities in the country, including the MeerKAT in the Karoo.



The SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope. In 2019, 15 countries involved in the SKA Project gathered in Rome for the signing of the international treaty establishing the intergovernmental organisation that will oversee the delivery of the world’s largest radio telescope. In 2021, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) officially came into operation. The SKAO, with a head office in London, is tasked with delivering and operating the SKA. Local communities are getting exposure to engineering as a result of the SKA project. The SARAO started offering artisan bursaries in 2011. More recently, the Klerefontein Training Centre was opened in Carnarvon, giving local high school pupils access to an accredited electrical engineering apprenticeship programme. The training programme will provide the MeerKAT and SKA radio telescopes with qualified artisans for their operations and maintenance. The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and SKA are placing the recipients of bursaries in the data science programmes of Sol Plaatje Universit y (SPU) and other students of astronomy are enrolled at Rhodes University.