SKA MeerKAT Extension

Designing and constructing the world's largest radio astronomy telescope: Reaching for the stars through technical excellence.

The SKA telescope is the world’s largest radio astronomy telescope, revolutionising our understanding of the universe. The MeerKAT Extension project expanded the existing MeerKAT array with 20 dishes and established the first 4 dishes for the SKA-MID Array.

This mega-science project is truly transformational and will change our understanding of the universe, giving scientists the ability to map the universe with more sensitivity and speed and over a greater area and distance.

Zutari was appointed to oversee the design and construction, which involved preliminary and detailed design, verification, and construction monitoring for the dish foundations. Providing power and fibre for data collection and relaying over long distances. Lastly, they were tasked with creating access roads and platforms, an RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) shielded container, offices, a kitchen, and a construction camp. The construction camp included a water supply, wastewater treatment plant, and accommodation for 250 people.

The MeerKAT Extension Project was a challenge that required considerable ingenuity and innovation. The dish foundations were required to meet exceedingly strict requirements concerning stiffness, movement tolerances, and orientation to the north. The remoteness and vastness of the site and associated networks created significant complexity in powering and connecting the dishes. The telescope’s extreme sensitivity to radio interference led the team to take several radical measures to prevent such interference.

All vehicles and equipment that accessed the site were RFI-approved and did not have any digital devices with them. This requirement affected the design and construction solutions as some typical equipment could not be used on-site, challenging the team to come up with innovative alternatives that would work within the strict RFI requirements.

Zutari is proud to have played a crucial role in laying the foundation for the success of this important project. It signifies growth for South African companies, as well as the potential to revolutionise research collaborations.
Zutari met the client’s high-quality standards by using technical expertise, 3D modelling and rigorous testing.

The project united Zutari teams across different disciplines (structural, geotechnical, roads, electrical and fibre, water, and project management) located across various Zutari offices and on-site.

Advanced 3D numerical modelling was utilised by both the structural and geotechnical design teams to tackle a significant challenge related to changing ground conditions across the vast site. This approach used soil structure to assess the strain in the ground and the resultant ground stiffness. The innovative method allowed for a much better determination of foundation performance in line with the client’s strict stiffness requirements.

Data sources and the topography were used to create a full 3D geological model of the site across the dish arrays, giving the team the ability to derive expected ground conditions with better accuracy and map rock levels. Where data was unavailable, the team had to make high-level assessments.

*The Aurecon Africa business has been officially renamed Zutari as at 21 July 2020.  Zutari acquired Aurecon Middle East on 20 November 2020.

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