First of 64 General Dynamics-built MeerKAT Radio Telescope Antennas ‘Stands-up’ in South Africa
When all 64 MeerKAT antennas are operational, the radio telescope will be sensitive enough to pick up a cell phone signal from Saturn.
NEWTON, N.C. - General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies and Stratosat Datacom (Pty) Ltd., a South African company, have completed the installation of the first of 64 MeerKAT radio telescope antennas that will form the MeerKAT telescope array. The array is located in South Africa's Karoo region and will be a technologically advanced radio telescope designed to locate radio-frequency signals from the furthest reaches of the universe, possibly from the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang. The MeerKAT array will constitute 25 percent of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), which is scheduled for completion in 2024. Until the SKA is completed, the MeerKAT array will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. Stratosat Datacom is the antenna prime contractor for the project.
General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies' Duisburg, Germany, facility led the engineering and design of the MeerKAT antennas, including the incorporation of an ‘indexer.' The addition of the indexer is unique on this type of antenna and allows scientists to easily and quickly change or "tune" the radio frequency of one or more antennas during any scientific experiment. The ability to alter the frequency of a radio telescope antenna without disrupting the entire array's performance is a significant technology advancement for radio telescopes.
With the completed antenna design, the Stratosat and General Dynamics SATCOM team is working closely with a number of South African fabricators, engineers and technicians to build and install the MeerKAT antenna array over the next three years.
"For more than 40 years, General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies has been helping scientists and astronomers unravel the mysteries of the universe," said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems. "We are proud to be partnering with Stratosat in the construction of the MeerKAT array and look forward to the new and exciting discoveries it will yield."
Bolted to a specially constructed concrete platform, each 43-metric-ton MeerKAT antenna includes an 8.5-meter-tall pedestal that contains the control systems for the antenna. The pedestal supports a 13.5-meter main reflector with a boom-arm that holds a smaller reflector and the indexer mechanism. Once operational, radio signals from the antenna will be transmitted to a super-computer, which will create the visual map of the object or region in the universe being observed. The data received by a single MeerKAT antenna, in one day, will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64-GB devices.
MeerKAT in one of the precursor instruments for the SKA. The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, with a square kilometer (one million square meters) of collecting area. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research, and development towards building and delivering a unique instrument, with the detailed design and preparation now well under way. As one of the largest scientific endeavors in history, the SKA will bring together some of the world's leading scientists, engineers and policy makers. For more information about SKA visit https://www.skatelescope.org/project/.
Since 1968, General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies has been a global leader designing and building some of the world's most advanced optical telescope mirror structures and radio telescope antennas. The company's technologically advanced antennas are found in astronomical observatories and scientific installations around the world, including:
- Joint Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory (Chile), capturing never before seen images of the universe;
- Jet Propulsion Deep Space Network (Australia, Spain, Argentina), improving communications and data capacity of spacecraft studying the sun, planets and moons; and
- Lowell Observatory Discovery Channel Telescope (Arizona, U.S. A.), connecting millions of Discovery Channel viewers to real-time astronomy and research.
General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies also supplies commercial satellite antennas and related ground station products used by commercial communications companies and broadcast networks worldwide.