Home » Zutari coordinates global project efforts for MeerKAT radio telescope array

Zutari coordinates global project efforts for MeerKAT radio telescope array

by Tia

Leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory practice Zutari is continuing its involvement with the world-leading MeerKAT radio telescope array, where it has played a leading role since the project first broke ground, according to Major Projects  Director Jana Jooste. “Zutari has been involved with this initiative for about 15 years. It is one of our flagship projects and very close to our heart. We are very proud and privileged to be a part of such an exciting global venture.”

Jooste adds: “What makes our ongoing involvement unique is that, whereas we previously only designed the infrastructure for MeerKAT, our current appointment is as a professional services consultant for the client. It means we are embedded in the client’s team, a testament to the incredible collaboration we have had as part of a global professional team on this flagship international project.”

With the main client, the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO), based in the United Kingdom, Zutari’s current role is to guide the infrastructure construction contractors through the designs and subsequent construction work. “The local design and construction activities need to be closely aligned with other work packages being developed, specifically the telescopes being developed in China. Where this becomes interesting and challenging is coordinating all of these global efforts and to find ways, tools, and mechanisms to make sure that ultimately there is a single integrated telescope array,” explains Jooste.

“We regularly sit in on meetings with the other design teams, based all over the world,” she adds. Zutari is also developing power solutions for the site. “Hence, there is an international flavour to what ultimately will be a South African solution on the ground here in the Northern Cape.”

Zutari’s longstanding involvement with the project extends to assisting the National Research Foundation (NRF) with the necessary technical support to ensure South Africa could demonstrate that it had the capability to host the telescope. The telescope is operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), a NRF facility.

The 64-dish MeerKAT is the largest radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and one of two SKA precursor instruments based in South Africa. Located in the Karoo semi-desert, it was expanded with an additional 24 dishes under the MeerKAT+ project. This was jointly funded in 2019 by SARAO and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) of Germany and since 2020 with the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF). The telescope will later be gradually integrated into the Square Kilometre Array Mid-frequency telescope (SKA-Mid).

The SKA Observatory (SKAO) is an intergovernmental organisation bringing together expertise worldwide to build and operate cutting-edge radio telescopes to transform our understanding of the universe and deliver benefits to society through global collaboration and innovation.

The SKAO has a global footprint, consisting of its global headquarters in the UK, the two telescopes at radio-quiet sites in South Africa and Australia, and associated facilities to support the operation of the telescopes. Once fully operational, the SKAO will be a single global observatory operating two telescopes across three continents on behalf of its member states and partners.

Local community engagement is a high priority for the SKAO. “The telescope will be operating for an extended period of time, and therefore, the buy-in and benefits to the local community is a major focus area.” The Northern Cape where the telescope is being constructed, has a high level of poverty and unemployment.

As a result, a range of initiatives have been implemented to benefit and upskill local companies and entrepreneurs, from providing physical labour, local contractors and suppliers to related soft services. “We are looking at the entire region both during construction and post-construction when the telescope is operational,” confirms Jooste.

Another benefit for the South African economy is the anticipated construction of a data centre and operations centre based in Cape Town, which will attract international researchers and boost local tourism. “We are sure that anyone who visits in this capacity will fall in love with the country, as well as boost our international standing in the scientific community,” says Jooste.

Zutari’s involvement with the project has garnered it major local accolades. It won in the project category from R50 million to R250 million at the CESA Aon Engineering Excellence Awards 2023. It subsequently received a commendation for Most Outstanding Civil Project (Technical Excellence) at the SANRAL SAICE National Awards 2023. The project was declared a winner in the Consulting Engineers category at the 2023 Construction World Best Project Awards on 9 November last year.

“We are proud to have provided the critical base infrastructure needed for these SKA dishes to operate effectively,” says Dr. Gabi Wojtowitz, who oversaw the foundation and geotechnical work. Zutari conducted preliminary and detailed design, verification and construction monitoring for the 24 dish foundations for MeerKAT+, as well as the power and fibre needed to collect and relay data over vast distances. The project included the complete design verification and design of the access and foundation elements for the remaining 109 dish positions for the SKA-Mid array.

You may also like

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!