Media release

South African-led Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) Consortium completes planning work for SKA

10 July 2019

The international engineering consortium tasked with planning the Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) of the SKA Radio Telescope has formally completed its work, another crucial step towards the construction of the world’s largest radio telescope.

The AIV Consortium, formed in 2013, was led by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), and was responsible for delivering the AIV process for SKA’s mid-frequency array (SKA-MID) in South Africa and the low-frequency array (SKA-LOW) in Australia. The experience gained, and lessons learnt, by the South African engineers, from designing the AIV process for MeerKAT, positioned SARAO as the natural lead for the AIV consortium. SARAO engineers, as well as engineers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) constituted the SKA AIV consortium.

“The AIV programme is critical to ensure that telescope elements, that have been designed and built by a dispersed global community, are tested, assembled and verified in a rational and thorough way, thereby ensuring that the entire telescope system will work as designed, to budget and on schedule,” says Professor Justin Jonas, Chief Technologist at SARAO.

Experience with other radio telescopes has demonstrated that the roll-out activities are often under-estimated, resulting in delays in deployment, due to re-engineering and retrofitting of components, which in turn increases the total cost of the system. Many issues that are discovered during “downstream” integration and verification are the result of “upstream” neglect. The sheer scale and complexity of the SKA therefore made it essential that AIV planning was done at an early stage, in parallel with the work of the element-design consortia.

“SKA-MID will consist of nearly 200 dishes in South Africa and 130,000 antennas in Western Australia, so we don’t want to assemble and integrate and then discover something crucial is missing, or doesn’t work as we expected it to,” said Richard Lord, AIV Consortium Lead at SARAO. “We’ve learned valuable lessons from MeerKAT about how challenging AIV can be if issues are identified too late during deployment. Planning for the AIV now gives us the best possible preparation for accurate procurement and construction for the SKA.”

The work completed by the AIV Consortium will be included in the overall System Critical Design Review (CDR) for the SKA, scheduled forlater this year, which will ensure that all the different design elements of the SKA align with each other.

“This small consortium has moved mountains in terms of the amount of preparation done for both SKA telescopes I want to sincerely thank them for their efforts,” said Peter Hekman, Engineering Project Manager responsible for AIV at the SKA headquarters. “After System CDR their work will really begin to pay dividends, as we put these plans into action with the construction of the SKA.”

SARAO Managing Director, Dr Rob Adam, also thanked and commended the SKA AIV Consortium: “I want to congratulate Richard Lord, and the AIV consortium, for their exemplary work, on what is an extremely challenging aspect of the SKA design work, and I am very proud of the contribution of the SARAO system engineers.”

Learn more about AIV and its fellow consortia on the SKA’s engineering design website.
Read more about the SKA’s Critical Design Reviews
Frequently Asked Questions

The Square Kilometre Array
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA will be constructed in Australia and South Africa; with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.

Already supported by 13 national members – Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions in the design and development of the telescope.

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), a facility of the National Research Foundation, is responsible for managing all radio astronomy initiatives and facilities in South Africa, including the MeerKAT Radio Telescope in the Karoo, and the Geodesy and VLBI activities at the HartRAO facility. SARAO also coordinates the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) for the eight SKA partner countries in Africa, as well as South Africa’s contribution to the infrastructure and engineering planning for the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope. To maximise the return on South Africa’s investment in radio astronomy, SARAO is managing programmes to create capacity in radio astronomy science and engineering research, and the technical capacity required to support site operations.


Kim de Boer
SARAO Acting Head of Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Tel: +27 11 442-2434