MeerKAT antenna ‘boost for SA industry’


14 August 2012

SKA South Africa has awarded a R630-million contract for the design, manufacture and installation of 64 antennas for the MeerKAT, a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, to a South African-US consortium, with 75% of the contract value to be spent locally.

South Africa and Australia will be jointly hosting the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), with South Africa the majority host.

The 64-dish MeerKAT, which is being built alongside the planned SKA site in a radio astronomy reserve near the small town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, will constitute 25% of the first phase of the SKA’s mid-frequency array.

Also known as the Karoo Array Telescope, the MeerKAT will be the most sensitive centimetre-wavelength radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, and astronomers from around the world are already queuing up to use it.

SKA South Africa announced last week that the contract for the MeerKAT antennas – the single largest procurement in the MeerKAT project – had been awarded to a consortium including South African company Stratosat Datacom and General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies (GDSatcom), an antenna manufacturer with offices in the US and Germany.

“Detailed design of the antennas will commence immediately in collaboration with the MeerKAT project office, and the first antenna will be erected in the Karoo before the end of 2013,” SKA South Africa said in a statement. “Construction of all 64 antennas will be completed before the end of 2016.”

According to SKA South Africa, 75% of the contract value will be spent in South Africa, including all of the qualification testing, tooling design, and virtually all of the manufacturing.

“This contractual condition aims to maximize the benefits and opportunities for local industry, while retaining the expertise of Stratosat and GDSatcom. SKA South Africa will own the intellectual property of the antenna design, and Stratosat/GDSatcom have committed to spending a significant percentage of the contract value on skills development within South Africa.

SKA South Africa said the awarding of the contract followed a competitive tender process “run in strict accordance with the National Treasury rules for government procurements of this nature.

“Four industrial consortia, each representing partnerships between local and international companies, responded to the open call for proposals. While the ability to deliver a cutting-edge science instrument at a competitive price was the key consideration in awarding the contract, there was also an emphasis on skills transfer and local procurement and manufacturing.”

The Stratosat/GDSatcom consortium had “presented an implementation at a competitive price that exceeded the technical specifications defined by the MeerKAT project office”.

SAinfo reporter