MeerKAT and SKA: Advancing Development in Africa Through Innovation in Radio Astronomy

Mr Tony Lankester
Mr Alex Bassios
Mr Benjamin Hector Hlophe
Mr Khutšo Ngoasheng
Mr Simon Ratcliffe
Ms Kechil Kirkham

Mr Alex Bassios

Alex Bassios is a director of Peralex, a high technology company situated in Cape Town, South Africa. After earning a M.Sc.(Eng.) degree and developing early expertise in the then emerging field of Digital Signal Processing, he co-founded Peralex in 1987. Alex has helped build Peralex into a company that designs and manufactures leading products to receive and process radio signals. Amongst the company’s proudest achievements are the signal processing and data storage products used by South Africa’s MeerKAT Radio Telescope, currently “the most powerful telescope in the world”.

Alex strives to keep Peralex a stimulating environment for the excellent engineers and professionals who work at the company. Whileknowledge obtained from his MBA studies have helped, he is probably more influenced by business instinct developed from working in his family’s café during his childhood.

Alex loves re-exploring the wonders of the universe, the world and history with his children, Sofia (12) and Thomas (10). He enjoys mountain biking and hiking in the mountains behind his home in Kalk Bay, where his family has the South African vineyard which is closest to the sea andproduces a unique Cabernet Franc wine.

Mr Benjamin Hector Hlophe

Benjamin Hector Hlophe is an electronic engineer by profession and a Director of Technology Operations at Kutleng Engineering Technologies. He developed an interest in high performance computing in 2000 and has never looked back.
Benjaminpursued his studies in South Africa and France through the French South African Institute in Electronics (F’SATIE) student exchange programme, and graduated with a double masters degree in electronics at the Tshwane University of Technology and ESIEE, France in 2007.

Early in his career, Benjamin started a company HBH Electronics and secured contract work with Denel Dynamics. His work was recognised internationally by engagements with large companies like Xilinx and Broadcom, both located in Silicon Valley, California, USA.

Benjamin’s main areas of expertise are in the micro and macro architecture of high performance system with applications to imaging, real time video processing and high performance digital signal processing. MeerKAT.

Mr Khutšo Ngoasheng

Khutšo Ngoasheng manages the team responsible for the part of the MeerKAT Radio Telescope that ingests and synthesises telescope data, produces images and delivers science-quality data to the science community. Khutšo applies innovative practices to lead the team in the development of high performance computing infrastructure, performant software components as well as novel approaches to science data processing.

Prior to working at SARAO, Khutšo worked in various roles in IT across various industries, from financial services to the media.

Khutšo studied Computer Science and Information Systems at Rhodes University, holds an MBA from the University of the Witwatersrand, and is currently completing an MPhil degree in Space Studies at the University of Cape Town. He is also a professional project manager (PMP) and believes that it is through building and nurturing strong teams, excellent engineering, open innovation and methodologies that creative solutions are realised within projects.

Khutšo’s interests are in large scale computing, information systems architecture, IT service management, innovation management andcommercialisation, as well as mentorship of the next generation of scientists and unlocking the potential of mega science projects for positive impact.

Mr Simon Ratcliffe

Simon Ratcliffeoversees the architecture and technical direction of science processing for South Africa’s 64-receptor MeerKATRadio Telescope situated on the SKA site 90km outside Carnarvon, Northern Cape. Within the context of the internationalSKA effort, he is involved in the development of the science data processor (SDP), and leads the local monitoring andcontrol component of this effort.

The data rates involved in the SKA will be in the 100’s of gigabits per second and will need to be processed in real-time.
The SDP effort focuses on the design of the supercomputer-scale computing facility, computing hardware platforms, software, and algorithms needed to process the vast amounts of data output accepted from the correlator/beam-formeron each telescope into final calibrated science data products.

Simon grew-up on a small-holding outside the small town of Krugersdorp, South Africa, where the clarity and vastness of
the Southern skies inspired him to become an astronomer. He graduated with a BSc Honours from Rhodes University
and has a background in astrophysics and computer science. Simon has been dubbed by the South African media as the
”barefoot astronomer” for his habit of working without shoes.

Mr Tony Lankester

Tony Lankester has been CEO of South Africa’s National Arts Festival since 2008 and currently also serves as Executive Director of the Grahamstown Foundation, home to South Africa’s National Science Festival, Scifest Africa.

In 2018, Lankester watched over the production of the first Creative Digital Arts Festival, an exploration of the space where creativity, innovation and technology converge, and a playground for artists, scientists and audiences interested in how the digital age is helping to bring our imaginations to life and who want to experience the creative tools of the future.

After graduating from Rhodes University with a B.Journ. majoring in Film and TV, Tony worked at SAfm for seven years in various roles, including Marketing Manager, presenter and producer. He moved on to the corporate world, joining Old Mutual as External Communications Manager and eventually Group Sponsorship Manager.

Tony is founding chair of the World Fringe Alliance, which brings together 10 global arts festivals with a collective audience of 3,5 million people, and founding Treasurer of AFRIFESTNET.

Ms Kechil Kirkham

Kechil Kirkham has 34 years of international experience in technical management in highly innovation-driven research and commercial organisations. She is currently on secondment from SpaceAdvisory Company as Project Managerfor the Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA). Kechil has also been part of the systems engineering teamon the Science Data Processor for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Telescope for the past five years.

Kechil has three Masters degrees in Social Anthropology (Cambridge University), IT (University of York) and Space Studies (University of Cape Town). Her recent dissertation explores the gap between technologistsand end-users in the space industry, and what this cognitive gap means in terms of development in Africa. Kechil’s researchwas informed by her work as manager of an IT company in Ugandawhere sheimplemented systems in avery different context to that for which they were designed.

Kechil has been involved in regular science broadcasting and astronomy outreachfor more than 12 years. She is an active member of the amateur astronomy community andfounder member of the Centre for Astronomical Heritage.Kechilis a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

After a decade of design and construction, South Africa’s 64-array MeerKAT Radio Telescope was inaugurated on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa site 90km outside Carnarvon, Northern Cape on 13 July 2018. At the event, a panorama image obtained with the new telescope was unveiled that reveals the clearest view yet of the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy. This, and other images, demonstrated MeerKAT to be “the most powerful radio telescope in the world.”

The SKA is an international collaboration to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The telescope will have a collecting area of one square kilometre and will consist of an array of thousands of dishes located across Africa and antennas located across Australia. MeerKAT is a precursor telescope to the SKA and will be integrated into Phase 1 of the SKA-MID telescope.

Mega-science projects such as MeerKAT and SKA are inherently complexand involve extensive research and development (R&D) and the novel application of science and engineering technologies. This promotes the development of disciplines andinnovation which translate into economic benefits through human capital development and commercialisation.

This session will discuss the importance of radio astronomy for development in Africa by exploring theexciting innovationsdeveloped and used for the MeerKAT Radio Telescope and that have positioned the continent as a leader in fields such as high performance computing.