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First Of 64 General Dynamics-built MeerKAT Radio Telescope Antennas 'Stands-up' In South Africa

NEWTON, N.C., March 27, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies and Stratosat Datacom (Pty) Ltd., a South African company, have completed the installation of the first of 64 MeerKAT radio telescope antennas that will form the MeerKAT telescope array. The array is located in South Africa's Karoo region and will be a technologically advanced radio telescope designed to locate radio-frequency signals from the furthest reaches of the universe, possibly from the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang. The MeerKAT array will constitute 25 percent of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), which is scheduled for completion in 2024. Until the SKA is completed, the MeerKAT array will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere.  Stratosat Datacom is the antenna prime contractor for the project.

General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies' Duisburg, Germany, facility led the engineering and design of the MeerKAT antennas, including the incorporation of an 'indexer.' The addition of the indexer is unique on this type of antenna and allows scientists to easily and quickly change or "tune" the radio frequency of one or more antennas during any scientific experiment.  The ability to alter the frequency of a radio telescope antenna without disrupting the entire array's performance is a significant technology advancement for radio telescopes.

With the completed antenna design, the Stratosat and General Dynamics SATCOM team is working closely with a number of South African fabricators, engineers and technicians to build and install the MeerKAT antenna array over the next three years.

"For more than 40 years, General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies has been helping scientists and astronomers unravel the mysteries of the universe," said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems. "We are proud to be partnering with Stratosat in the construction of the MeerKAT array and look forward to the new and exciting discoveries it will yield."

Bolted to a specially constructed concrete platform, each 43-metric-ton MeerKAT antenna includes an 8.5-meter-tall pedestal that contains the control systems for the antenna. The pedestal supports a 13.5-meter main reflector with a boom-arm that holds a smaller reflector and the indexer mechanism. Once operational, radio signals from the antenna will be transmitted to a super-computer, which will create the visual map of the object or region in the universe being observed. The data received by a single MeerKAT antenna, in one day, will generate enough raw data to fill 15 million 64-GB devices.

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