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Progress on the MeerKAT Radio Telescope Extension Project

Concor, a black-owned construction company in South Africa, has updated its progress in laying the foundations and infrastructure for the MeerKAT telescope expansion project, which it is working on alongside OptiPower. MeerKAT is South Africa’s world-leading radio telescope array (and a forerunner to the international Square Kilometre Array radio telescope program). The expansion project includes the installation of 20 additional dish antennas. The MeerKAT telescope site is located in the Northern Cape province’s Karoo area, around 90 kilometers from Carnarvon. In September, the construction company began work on the property.

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MeerKAT Telescope’s Advanced Design

The MeerKAT telescope project also includes the building of roads and other infrastructure in addition to the dish foundations. The company’s first piles were drilled, and concrete poured in October when the piling rig arrived on site. Because of the soft soil and sandy conditions, the 20 foundations will be built on piles with a concrete cover; each foundation will have eight 750 mm diameter piles that will be between seven and eleven meters deep. The MeerKAT telescope is a highly accurate device. As a result, the dishes, including their foundations, must be precisely positioned.

Structures known as ‘bolt cages,’ to which the dish antenna pedestals are attached, must be sited with millimeter-level precision. (Each bolt cage is galvanized, has a height of 1.7 m, and is built to specification locally.) According to Concor contracts manager Stephan Venter, in addition to precision, the foundations must guarantee that the antennas can withstand the force of winds, which is especially important given the dish’s large surface area. All of this must be accomplished with the least amount of radio frequency interference possible (RFI). This is because RFI would not only cause the present MeerKAT array to malfunction, but it might also cause damage to its technology, which is meant to detect extremely faint radio signals from deep within the universe.

RFI is produced by mobile phones, car electronics, and a variety of other equipment and instruments. Venter went on to say that the business has tested and updated all of its on-site equipment to meet the RFI requirements. Excavators, trucks, graders, compactors, telehandlers, water bowsers, TLBs [tractor-loader-backhoes], and the company’s concrete batching vehicle are among the equipment they use.

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