The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN’s) Hydrogen and Real-time Analysis Experiment (Hirax) has deployed two new prototype telescope dish designs at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (Sarao), in Hartebeeshoek, Gauteng.
The first dish, made from fibreglass, was designed and manufactured by MMS Technology, in Pretoria, while the second dish, made from aluminium, was designed and manufactured through a partnership between NJV Consulting and Rebcon, in Durban.
The design and development of the dishes were funded by the National Research Foundation.
The dish deployment brings Hirax a step closer to the installation of the full 1 024-dish array in a compact configuration on the Hirax main site, in the Karoo.
The telescope will enable research in the evolution of dark energy through hydrogen intensity mapping, and research on transient radio sources such as fast radio bursts (FRBs) and pulsars.
UKZN explained in a statement on Thursday that dark energy was a mysterious force in the universe that scientists believed acted against gravity to cause an accelerated expansion of the universe.
FRBs are mysterious millisecond extragalactic flashes in the sky of unknown origin.
Collaboration on the dish design started early in 2018 with the purpose of defining final dish requirements for the project. The design of these 6-m-long dishes has strict tolerances on the shape, surface accuracy and receiver position.
The mechanical design also allows for the manual repointing of the dishes every few months, enabling the instrument to map about a third of the sky over a five-year period, while minimising cost by eliminating the need for active drive mechanisms.
Hirax will analyse the two new prototype dishes over the next few months to develop the final requirements for an open tender for the first 256 dishes to be installed at the Hirax main site in the Karoo.
Sarao MD Dr Rob Adam said that after the successful testing of the dishes at the Hartebeeshoek site, Sarao looks forward to hosting Hirax at its site in the Karoo.
“We always had the idea that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) site would prove to be an attractor for other leading-edge global astronomy projects and this is turning out to be the case.”