Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory

Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory

The Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) is a radio astronomy observatory located in a natural bowl of hills at Hartebeesthoek just south of the Magaliesberg mountain range, Gauteng province, South Africa, about 50 km west of Johannesburg. It is a National Research Facility run by South Africa's National Research Foundation and is the only major radio astronomy observatory in Africa.

History

The observatory was originally named "Deep Space Station 51" and was built in 1961 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In this role the station assisted in tracking many unmanned United States space missions, including the Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter spacecraft (which landed on the Moon or mapped it from orbit), the Mariner missions (which explored the planets Venus and Mars) and the Pioneer missions (which measured the Sun's winds).

NASA withdrew from the station in 1975, handing it over to South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who converted to a radio astronomy observatory. In 1988 the observatory became a National Facility operated by the Foundation for Research Development (FRD); in 1999 the FRD was restructured as the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The Radio Telescope

The observatory is equipped with a single 260 ton radio telescope with a main reflecting surface diameter of 26 metres. The telescope is equipped with radio receivers operating in the microwave band at wavelengths of 18cm, 13cm, 6cm, 5cm, 4.5cm, 3.5cm and 2.5cm.

Research

HartRAO is mainly used for continuum radiometry, spectroscopy, pulsar timing and interferometry but also works together with radio telescopes on other continents as well as the orbiting radio telescope HALCA in order to perform Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).

HartRAO is an associate member of the European VLBI Network, but also operates with the Australia Telescope Long Baseline Array, the Asia-Pacific Telescope, the United States Very Long Baseline Array and the Global Array.

HartRAO also runs a Space Geodesy programme using VLBI, Satellite laser ranging and the Global Positioning System.

The observatory also provides students and lecturers from South African universities the facilities and opportunities to perform research.

Involvement with the Karoo Array Telescope Project

The XDM, a prototype dish for the MeerKAT radio telescope, has been constructed at HartRAO. The XDM dish design will first be used in KAT-7, a seven-dish engineering testbed and science instrument to be built in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province. KAT-7 will mark the first stage of MeerKAT development. MeerKAT, a 50+ dish system, will be built on the same site, and is projected to be operational by 2012.

External links

* [http://www.hartrao.ac.za/ Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory Website]
* [http://www.ska.ac.za/ SKA (Square Kilometre Array) Website]


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