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Issue 17, August/September

“If you were to buy a general-purpose compute machine to do the collaboration and imaging to produce the images the array receives, it would be in the order of hundreds of petafl ops required to do the work,” Hall says.

While work is currently taking place on the supercomputer’s development in the UK, which could see more outlays once a decision is made on site selection early next year, Hall says the project is likely to call heavily on the skills of the local population for its running.

Roshene McCool is the domain specialist in signal transport and networks for the SKA Program Development Offi ce, also at Jodrell Bank. She is working on the network infrastructure required for SKA.

The project will use 3,000 dishes extended out on a spiral arm stretching 3,000km from a central core with a radius of 2.5km. There will be 250 low-frequency aperture arrays, 250 mid-frequency aperture arrays and possibly some phased array feeds being run on dishes. Dishes that have phased array feeds are likely to have an output of about 216GB per second per dish. These will carry out advanced surveys of the sky.

“All the data will essentially be white noise,” McCool says. “The white noise gets transmitted to a correlator (a device that can compare signals), where it is correlated into visibilities. Then a data center or high- performance computer will turn this into images. The network will need to be fi ber optic,” McCool says.

McCool herself knows how vital it is to have a project such as SKA acting as inspiration for new generations entering science and technology fi elds of research. “I was fi rst inspired by the projects at the Jodrell Bank observatory, which runs the UK telescope Merlin,” McCool says. “People go into physics because of the more sexy areas such as astronomy,

but many actually end up

becoming engineers and working in other areas, which is important.”


Pandor says the EU and Africa already have a strong strategy devised to encourage science and technology in Africa that supports human capital at the infrastructure level. She said her country has managed to overcome much of


Pulsar orbiting a black hole – just one of the maps likely to be produced by SKA once it is in operation

Artist’s impression of the SKA dishes. Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

the electricity outages that plagued it in 2007, costing billions for every few hours of lost service. Much of this success was down to innovations and growth in technology.

“We can’t afford to not have enough Masters and Doctoral

candidates to support our

growing technology and science work. We need to build new human capital – new knowledge workers with engineering and ICT skills to develop new tools for dishes that will be used for the telescopes to work on ways of data management. This will help to push Africa away from its old identity as a continent that doesn’t have technological competence to one that does.” 

You can hear more about Africa’s bid for the SKA telescope array in our special three

part video series featuring South Africa’s technology minister Naledi Pandor online at

DatacenterDynamics Johannesburg will be taking place at the Sandton Convention Center on 8 September 2011.

The conference will look closely at how South Africa has developed in recent years with new subsea cables, better power resources and how this has spurred newbuild data centers. It will focus heavily on Design, Build and Operate and feature talks from T-Systems, Thomson Reuters and more. For more information, visit conferences/2011/johannesburg2

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