Preparing for the departure of the KAT containers


On 6 May 2009, four containers arrived at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town.

These weren’t just normal containers, though. These were very special containers: high-tech, RFI-shielded containers, especially designed and outfitted to accommodate all the complicated equipment that will be needed to  control, operate and process the data from the brand new radio astronomy telescopes that are being built in the Northern Cape.

Currently, seven radio astronomy antennas are being designed, constructed and set up at the site (KAT-7). These will be followed in due course by about 80 antennas that make up the MeerKAT project. (See lengthy article about the MeerKAT and SKA projects that appeared in Popular Mechanics of December 2007, and also article in Engineering news of 03 April 2009.)

The various teams at the KAT office in Pinelands have been hard at work on two of the containers, the Site Services Container (SSC) and the Antenna Services Container (ASC), which are the first two containers to be transported up to the core site at Losberg.


On Friday last week, a couple of guys from Thermodynamics, Fluids and Design (TFD), a company based in Stellenbosch, were still busy installing the cooling system inside the two containers. The equipment in the containers is going to generate a LOT of heat – quite apart from the fact that the containers will also be exposed to external heat in the Karoo, so an effective ventilation and cooling system is essential.

The cooling equipment is being installed

The cooling equipment is being installed

Here they are, attaching the pipes inside the Site Services Container. Other than the cooling equipment, there isn’t much else in here right now, apart from a couple of lights. Richard briefly turned on the fan in the other container, to demonstrate how noisy it would be inside this claustrophobic space – but then it isn’t intended to be used as an office, after all.

Inside the ASC

Inside the ASC

Apparently, this container will not be used for the KAT-7 project at the moment, but for the so-called PAPER project, which has nothing to do with paper as such – the acronym stands for “Precision Array to Probe the Epoch of Reionization”. The SSC will thus house the PAPER equipment, which will be used to receive the data from an array of dipole antennas to be erected somewhere in the vicinity of the KAT-7 core site at Losberg. (You can find out more about this at the international SKA Telescope website, which publishes regular newsletters, like this one.)

This is a glimpse inside the Antenna Services Container. At the back are three racks for electronic equipment. In the foreground are a couple of shelves, a working space and a massive 20 kVA UPS, which in the event of a power failure will (hopefully) be able to keep everything going for a few minutes so that the system can be shut down safely.

Inside the ASC

Inside the ASC

The containers have been temporarily stored at the SAAO, which is a marvellous place, absolutely steeped in history. Here you can see the SSC on the left and a small telescope building on the right, all against the magnificent backdrop of Devil’s Peak.

And look at that blue sky! Awesome!

The backdrop of Devil's Peak

The backdrop of Devil's Peak

Here, Richard is explaining things to two of his colleagues, Anja and Sharmila.

Anja, Sharmila and Richard

Anja, Sharmila and Richard


We went through again on Saturday. TFD had completed their installations, and now Obert and his cousin were applying the finishing touches.

Here’s moi, posing with Obert in the ASC.

Obert and Reggie in the ASC

Obert and Reggie in the ASC

Finally, after all the tools had been tidied away, and all the little bits and bobs of scrap had been tossed in the bin, the guys carefully strapped down the cabinets, the shelves, and the UPS. Here’s hoping that the long truck that will transport the containers up to the site will not have to do any sharp braking!

Everything loose is strapped down

Everything loose is strapped down


You can read more about the containers at the links below:

06 May 2009: The KAT containers and an inquisitive KAT
23 June 2009: RFI-shielded containers for the MeerKAT project
June 2009: SKA Newsletter No. 10

A large group from the KAT office in Pinelands visited the site in June this year.

Click on the links below to read about our trip:

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