The KAT containers and an inquisitive cat

This morning, the high-tech containers for the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT) project arrived at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory.

Shipped over from The Netherlands, these four RFI-shielded containers were especially designed and outfitted to accommodate all the complicated equipment that the KAT team needs to control and operate the brand new radio astronomy telescopes that are being built in the Northern Cape. The KAT project is a forerunner – or a pathfinder – for a highly prestigious international radio astronomy project called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

One of the benefits of Richard working on this exciting project was being asked to arrive at the SAAO this morning, camera at the ready, in order to chronicle the arrival and unloading of these four huge containers. This was a much more adventurous prospect than spending the day indoors, huddled over my computer to do a proofreading job. (By the way, more photos can be found here.)

The big delivery trucks with the containers were too bulky to navigate the narrow, winding and tree-lined lanes at the SAAO, and thus they stayed in the parking lot outside, while a smaller truck was brought in to prevent damage to ancient trees and national monument buildings. Even this smaller truck had a rough time, though, until two helpful guys hopped onto the roof to prune away the overhanging branches.

Truck delivering the container

Truck delivering the container

The fog of last night was still there this morning. Amazingly, it stayed almost the whole day, instead of melting away with the warmth of the midday sun. (I can attest to the fact that there was no midday sun: it was COLD! Thank goodness for thermosflasks with tea!)

So this is the truck with the first container, waiting for the crane to arrive on the field. The cement blocks, incidentally, will act as the foundations for the four containers. Apparently, this open space used to be a clay tennis court in the olden days, as evidenced by the two posts for the net that still stick up out of the ground – yet another obstacle for the crane to negotiate.

It was a foggy morning

It was a foggy morning

Meanwhile, Kevin vigorously started wielding his pickaxe to complete the trench, where the power cables will be laid.

Digging the trench

Digging the trench

This is an electric crane, apparently with a capacity of 16 tons, lifting the first container off the truck and manoeuvring it to a temporary location on one side of the open field.

Lifting the container off the truck

Lifting the container off the truck

Richard did a cursory inspection of the inside of each container, and pronounced them A-OK. This is what one looked like (not that you can see that much at the moment).

Inside one of the containers

Inside one of the containers

During a lull in the activities, while we were waiting for the next container to be ferried in, Richard took me down to the place where they had found the cement slabs.

The cement block testing site

The cement block testing site

Apparently, these were the remains of some sort of cement-testing experiment dating back to 1979-1980 or thereabouts, which is why the cement blocks all have a date engraved on them.

Cement blocks with engraved dates

Cement blocks with engraved dates

On the way back, I came across this sundial, which – of course – had to be photographed too.

The sundial

The sundial

I wish I knew how it works… Here is a close-up of the top:

Close-up o fthe top

Close-up of the top

It took pretty much the whole morning to ferry the four containers from the big truck outside into the grounds and for the crane to carry them to temporary positions dotted about the field. It was quite a complex procedure, because each of the containers was unique and had to be in a specific position on the cement blocks. In addition, the crane had limited manoeuvrability, and the condition of the soft clay ground and the presence of trees and buildings also had to be considered.

By midday, they had moved the first container into its final position on the cement slabs.

Moving a container into position

Moving a container into position

Judging from the amount of time and care the team took in placing the container in exactly the right position, they were taking their company slogan very seriously.

The company logo

The company logo

It was while the third container was being hoisted into its final resting place, that I was distracted by the arrival of an adorable young cat. Although she looked like a wild cat, she proved surprisingly affectionate and eager to say hello with a friendly rub.

A very alert young kitty

A very alert young kitty

I thought she had such a cute face, even when she gave me this rather stern look:

What a cute face!

What a cute face!

Richard obligingly took some pics of me and my new best friend:

My new friend

My new friend

Awww, I love you too, kitty.

A look of love...

A look of love...

Another trench was being dug towards the new distribution board (that grey box thing in the picture below). Curious kitty went to conduct a technical inspection, to make sure everything had been done according to spec.

Kitty doing a technical inspection of the trench

Kitty doing a technical inspection of the trench

Her verdict was that it would do just fine. A bit dirty, and muddy, but nothing that a good lick couldn’t solve.

Close-up of kitty

Close-up of kitty

At last, by about 2pm, the job was complete. All four containers were firmly on their cement pedestals in a neatly aligned row. From left to right: Site Services Container, Antenna Services Container, Computing Container, and Control and Monitoring Container.

A job well done

A job well done

(More photos here.)

6 thoughts on “The KAT containers and an inquisitive cat

    • Ahhh! Thanks for that! Now I’ve learned something new. I thought the face was just ADORABLE… despite the funny markings, which made him look rather like an annoyed school principal reprimanding the class. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Reggie, thank you for the great account of events around the arrival of these containers. I work with the SKA office in Johannesburg on communication projects and we will certainly be able to use some of this information.

    • Hi Marina – you’re very welcome! I’m pleased you find it useful. If you would like any of the larger scale originals of any of the photographs (there are others in my Picasa album), please don’t hesitate to ask. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Pingback: Carnarvon, here we come! « Grains of Sand

  3. Pingback: RFI-shielded containers for the MeerKAT project « Grains of Sand

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