MeerKAT Radio Telescope
Building South Africa’s New “Eye to the Sky” Through Industry-Leading Expertise and a Unique Antenna Design
The MeerKAT Radio Telescope array, located in South Africa’s Karoo region, is a technologically advanced radio telescope designed to detect and map radio-frequency signals coming from the furthest reaches of the universe. The MeerKAT array will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere and represents the first significant installation of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) that is scheduled for completion in 2024. General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies is partnering with Stratosat Datacom (Pty) Ltd. to supply 64 radio-telescope antennas, ancillary electronic components and support for South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope program.
Designing The MeerKAT Radio Telescope
On March 27th 2014, the first General Dynamics-built antenna for the MeerKAT radio telescope was launched in South Africa. When completed, the MeerKAT array will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. A team of General Dynamics employees in our Richardson, Texas, office directed the project’s engineering and management while employees at our site in Duisburg, Germany, led the structural design efforts for the MeerKAT radio telescope antennas. Each antenna’s reflector structure is specially designed to retain its focus across temperatures that vary from -10°C to +50°C, allowing the structure to expand and contract yet still keep its optical shape. General Dynamics is one of very few companies in the world with the expertise to deliver this technical capability.
Facts About MeerKAT
- Antenna height: 19.5 meters
- Reflector (or dish) diameter: 13.5 meters
- Total weight including base, pedestal and dish: 42 tons (moving section weighs 25 tons)
- It takes about six months to build one MeerKAT antenna from start to finish
- The longest distance between any two antennas (maximum baseline) is 8 km
- In one day, the data received by a single MeerKAT antenna will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64-GB iPod devices
- Once all 64 MeerKAT antennas are operational, the instrument will be sensitive enough to pick up a cell phone signal from Saturn
- Leading radio astronomy teams around the globe have already signed up to use the instrument as soon as it is ready
Our relationship with space has changed dramatically since the first words were heard from the Moon in 1969. Space above Earth is now a complex array of more than 2,200 satellites, not including space debris made up of spent rocket boosters, dead satellites and a wrench or two from space walks and repairs. And, more satellites, large and small, are launching all the time.
In 1997, engineers at General Dynamics designed and built a transponder, or radio, that would travel aboard the Cassini spacecraft, the nation’s first full-scale mission to explore Saturn. After reaching Saturn, the Cassini mission was to last only four years. Almost twenty years after launch, the spacecraft crashed into Saturn’s gaseous surface after sending millions of images, and textbooks worth of scientific data to Earth, helping reveal the secrets of Saturn’s rings and moons.
NASA’s twin spacecraft, Voyager I and II are exploring where nothing from earth has ever flown before. The initial goal of the Voyager mission was a 12-year effort to explore Jupiter and Saturn, but due to the success of the spacecraft and a planetary alignment that occurs about every 175 years it has been extended for the last 40 years to explore Uranus and Neptune and even to the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain, and beyond.