Construction on phase one of the SKA - which on completion will be the world's biggest radio telescope - is set to start in 2018, centred on a site about 90km north-west of Carnarvon.

Cape Town - The contract to build the 64 antennas for South Africa’s new MeerKAT radio telescope has been awarded to a South African company that is backed by a world leader in antenna supplies.

Although the design for the antennas is being done in Germany and the US, South Africa owns all the related intellectual property rights.

Two contracts due to be awarded before the end of March are for the foundations for the 64 antennas, or radio signal receiving dishes, at the telescope’s home site near Carnarvon in the Great Karoo, and a site security contract.

Another big contract – the on-site installation of 200km of optical fibre cabling – should be awarded during the second quarter of the year.

This was revealed on Thursday at SKA SA’s Pinelands offices by MeerKAT project manager Willem Esterhuyse during an industry information session for potential suppliers.

MeerKAT is the precursor instrument for the giant Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, more than 70 percent of which South Africa and its eight African partners have won the right to host. - Cape Argus