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Southern African Large Telescope. Introduction. Presenters: Dr Matutu (Chief Director, Human Capital and Science Platforms), Department of Science and Technology Dr Gatsha Mazithulela (Vice-President, National Research Facilities, National Research Foundation)

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Dr Matutu (Chief Director, Human Capital and Science Platforms), Department of Science and Technology

Dr Gatsha Mazithulela (Vice-President, National Research Facilities, National Research Foundation)

Professor Phil Charles (Director of the South African Astronomy Observatory) a national facility of the National Research Foundation


  • The National Research and Development Strategy (NRDS) identified astronomy as an area where South Africa has an obvious geographical advantage

  • South Africa provides a geographical and climate advantage for global astronomy because of its clear, dark skies in areas of limited light and radio-frequency pollution


  • Astronomy facilities are best located in very low population density areas to minimise their impact on the community, and to reduce interference with telescope operations by human activities

  • A parallel investment in infrastructure for capacity development and increasing technological competitiveness was motivated by the growth of these facilities


  • The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) near Sutherland in South Africa is the largest single optical-infrared telescope in the southern hemisphere

  • The primary mirror measures 11 metres across (diameter) and is constructed from 91 hexagonal segments, each 1 metre in diameter

  • The SALT can access approximately 70% of the sky observable from Sutherland


  • Part of the infrastructure investment is the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)

    • Hosted by the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Sutherland, in the Northern Cape Province

  • There was no need to establish a new institution to accommodate the SALT as SAAO was already established under the NRF


  • The SALT is an outcome of multilateral partnership between

    • South Africa,

    • Germany,

    • New Zealand,

    • Poland,

    • the United Kingdom and

    • the United States.

    • India and the

    • American Museum of Natural History joined after SALT construction was completed in 2005.


  • The bandwidth requirement was determined jointly by the researchers and the SANReN design team

  • The connection will be provided by Telkom SA Ltd on a long-term lease for five years, after which the requirements will be reassessed. The link will be on existing Telkom optic fibre infrastructure

  • The cost is within the budgeted amount of R10 million for the SALT connection


  • South Africa contributed a third of the total of $36 million to finance SALT for its first 10 years ($20 million for the telescope, $6 million for instruments, $10 million for operations)

  • The South African National Research Network (SANReN) has commissioned Telkom to provide a 155 Mbps (Megabits per second) datalink from SALT to SAAO in Cape Town

  • The datalink to SALT is within the current SANReN budget

Human capital development at salt
Human Capital Development at SALT

  • SALT is accessible to local and international scientists for research

  • The DST funded Postgraduate students access SALT through the National Astrophysics and Space Programme (NASSP) and the Multi-wavelength (MWL) Astronomy programme

  • SALT is a sophisticated computer-controlled precision instrument and truly a telescope of the internet era

Human capital development at salt1
Human Capital Development at SALT

  • Astronomers submit their observing requests over the Internet and eventually receive their data by the same route without travelling to Sutherland

  • The establishment of SALT and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) in Namibia, together with the construction of the Karoo Array Telescope near Caernarvon, have made South Africa a strong contender to host the Square Kilometre Array Telescope

    • This will benefit South Africa tremendously as international scientific and engineering minds are attracted to this world-class, multi-wavelength capability

Salt social impact
SALT Social Impact

  • SALT benefits South Africa and Africa in the provision and development of highly technical expertise in the study of the origins and history of the universe

  • Astronomy will also provide us with a platform that generates scientific human capacity to drive new discoveries in physics, chemistry & biology, as has happened in developed countries.

  • In addition SALT provides South Africa with a competitive advantage in Astronomy

  • The SALT optical system development was a major South African achievement that was far superior to the American prototype, and a demonstration of South African ability to innovate in advanced optical technologies

Social impact on the sutherland community
Social Impact on the Sutherland Community

  • Through the NRF, installation of Digital Doorways and a wireless mesh network will enable the Sutherland school and local community to access the SALT internet connection

  • This will also provide a gateway to the wider internet network & hence allow the community & business access to the internet, & other web-based services

  • This will also enable entrepreneurs to establish internet-based businesses

Salt current status
SALT: Current status

  • 3 yrs commissioning, testing and analysing detailed performance (2006 -2008) revealed 2 serious problems:

    • Image quality poor, suffered from a focus gradient

      • Was due to misaligned optics in SAC (corrector)‏

      • Badly designed mounting of SAC on Tracker

    • Main spectrograph had very poor sensitivity in blue/UV

      • Manufacturing flaw found in lens coupling fluid used

Salt current status1
SALT: Current Status

  • SALT/SAAO team has developed solutions to both:

    • SAC removed from SALT mid-April, alignment and testing rig constructed at Sutherland, work underway, going well

    • Spectrograph optics returned to California, now repaired, reassembled and blue performance vastly improved

  • Repairs expected to complete before end 2009

Salt current status2
SALT: Current status

From SAAO Director's report to SALT Board in New York, May 28:

“This is without doubt the most radical surgery and intervention that SALT has undergone since its completion. That it is taking place entirely in our own facilities in SL is a dramatic event worthy of note in its own right, as it takes SALT technical operations to a potentially new level. This brings the entire SALT opto-mechanics now within the capability of the Operations Team to be able to adjust, maintain and repair. This is a far better situation than that

envisaged at the beginning of SALT operations, and bodes well for future developments and new instrumentation projects.”