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MeerKAT and SKA

This project addresses electromagnetic computer simulation of key elements of the proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
Electromagnetic Computer Simulation for the MeerKAT and SKA

The world's radio astronomy community is working together to conceptualise the SKA - the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever. It is likely to consist of a myriad of dishes, each 10-15m in diameter. Special antenna tiles in the core of the array will form a “radio fish eye lens” for all sky monitoring at low frequencies. This will allow many independent simultaneous observations. The joint receiving area of all these dishes and panels will add up to approximately one million square metres. The SKA will require super-fast data transport networks ever-increasing powerful computing. South Africa and Australia are the only two countries on the short-list to site this mega-telescope. A final decision on the site is expected by 2010 and construction should start in 2014. Should the telescope be sited in South Africa, the SKA's core will be in the Northern Cape Province (in the Karoo region). The SKA will consist of thousands of antennae spread over several thousands of kilometres. Approximately half of the antennae will be concentrated in a central region of approximately 5km in diameter.

The SKA is an international mega-science project and the projected cost is currently one billion euros. The erection of the SKA in South Africa will serve as a catalyst to firmly connect South Africa with international science.

The MeerKAT, another very important South African project with a budgeted cost of R800 million, is considered the largest government-funded science project since the early 1990s. The MeerKAT, with its approximately 80 dishes, is intended to serve as a technology demonstrator for the SKA, but will also be used independently.

The primary elements in both the SKA and KAT are receiving antennae. Due to the large size and complex design of these structures with demanding specifications, CEM plays a key role in the optimal design of the elements of the antennae to ensure maximum scientific return on investment.

A primary application of the SKA is the mapping of the entire sky and the ability to observe several parts of the sky simultaneously (in theory, as many times as there are elements in the focal plane array) can substantially reduce survey time (which can be measured in years for some radio astronomy projects). The focal plane array (located in the feed point) places a number of receiving elements at the focus of the main dish (probably a reflector with a 12 m diameter) and allows for the effective reception of a number of beams simultaneously. Simulating even a small array over the operating band of KAT requires high-performance computing. A major challenge in the construction of these antennae is to create them to be able to operate effectively across a wide frequency range. Constructing large arrays are grand challenges and thus call for the use of high-performance computing.

 

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