Stellenbosch-based engineers have received a R200-million contract to produce 60 receivers for antennas that form part of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope being built in South Africa.
The antennas on which these receivers are installed will work together to compile a more comprehensive and detailed picture of the universe, amplifying the faint signals received from galaxies billions of kilometres away.
The announcement marks the first feed package contract awarded among participating countries and institutions of the SKA Organisation (SKAO), and it is a milestone for EMSS Antennas, an Alphawave Group subsidiary, which specialises in radioastronomy.
The company’s engineers built the feeds for MeerKAT, the SKA precursor telescope located in South Africa, which is made up of 64 antennas in the Northern Cape. While many organisations and scientists contributed to the telescope, EMSS Antennas’ design played a crucial role in achieving its sensitivity.
The MeerKAT astounded international astronomers and scientists by exceeding the specified sensitivity twofold, leading to a number of discoveries – including two giant radio galaxies, among the largest single entities in the universe.
The detection of these galaxies in a relatively small patch of sky suggests that giant radio galaxies may be more common than previously thought, providing valuable insights into galaxy evolution.
With radio signals coming from vast distances and bouncing off reflectors, the SKA telescopes will peer millions of years into the past, offering insights into the early universe and galaxies of bygone eras.
Oxford University senior researcher in radioastronomy Ian Heywood praised MeerKAT in a statement. “The MeerKAT telescope is the best of its kind in the world. We have managed to identify these giant radio galaxies for the first time because of its unprecedented sensitivity to faint and diffuse radio light. This has made it possible to detect features that haven’t been seen before.”
Following the successful development of MeerKAT, construction of the SKA-Mid antennas has now started, which will see 130 additional antennas built on the same site and equipped with advanced receivers such as the ones supplied by EMSS Antennas.
For almost two decades, under the technical leadership of director and principal engineer Isak Theron, EMSS Antennas has become a preferred partner for complex projects like the SKA due to its proficiency at using FEKO, a leading tool for understanding and optimising antenna placement and coupling, and its cryogenic cooling system. This brings the active electronics to temperatures of -255 degrees Celsius, reducing the vibration and noise of electrons and resulting in superior clarity.
“Our feed package’s sensitivity paves the way for revolutionary discoveries in space and astronomy and we are excited about playing a part in this scientific and engineering journey to reveal the cosmos’s deepest secrets,” said Theron.
Frans Meyer, CEO of the Alphawave Group, added: “The SKA project’s significance for South Africa extends beyond scientific breakthroughs. It inspires our country’s youth to pursue education and careers in engineering and science, contributing to the nation’s intellectual and technical advancement, and it drives local industries to push their boundaries, particularly in manufacturing requirements. It also keeps exceptional engineers and scientists in South Africa, providing a platform for the country’s development and progress.” — © 2023 NewsCentral Media