African VLBI Network Training Site


Invited Talk: Wednesday 08 March - Dr George Nicolson

08 March 2017 09:00 - 10:00

Title: The History of Radio Astronomy in South Africa: From Sputnik to the SKA

Author: Dr George Nicolson 
             Astronomer Emeritus

I will describe how radio astronomy developed in South Africa, linking this to the development of radar in South Africa and the American space program, both of which were precursors to radio astronomy at HartRAO. The progressive growth of radio astronomy will be covered, from a one-person program at the original NASA Deep Space Station (1961-1974) to the Radio Astronomy Observatory which operated with a staff of twelve as an out station of the National Institute for Telecommunications Research, CSIR, (1975-1987) when NASA departed, and then finally becoming a HartRAO, one of the three original national research facilities of the National Research Foundation. The continual development of new instrumentation and upgrading of the HartRAO 26-m telescope into a world-class VLBI station (1988-present) will be discussed. Many people have helped to achieve this and I will touch on the key personalities who made this happen. I will close with a short account of how South Africa, as a late entrant, joined the SKA project, and despite a pre-1961 embargo on radio astronomy researach in South Africa, went on to be chosen as the host country for the SKA.


More about the author:


George Nicolson qualified as an electronics engineer (BSc Engineering) in 1959 and obtained an MSc in radio astronomy (1965) at the NASA Deep Space Station 51, where he was responsible for servo control system 26m antenna, from 1961-1964. From 1964-1974 he was the radio astronomer in charge of the local radio astronomy research program at DSS 51, funded by the SA CSIR. During this period he completed a PhD on "The spectra and variability of extragalactic radio sources". He collaborated with Australian radio astronomers on the first intercontinental VLBI program in the Southern hemisphere, using NASA deep space stations in both countries. After NASA withdrew in 1975 he became Head of the new Radio Astronomy Observatory, an outstation of the CSIR, and was appointed as Director of HartRAO in 1988, one of the three original national research facilities of the National Research Foundation. His research interests cover X-ray binary systems, compact extragalactic radio sources, very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), the design of radio telescope systems and cryogenically cooled receivers. He retired in 2003 and is currently an Astronomer Emeritus at HartRAO and a consultant to the SKA and AVN projects.