African VLBI Network Training Site

2017 March AVN Training School

Invited Talks

06 March 2017 10:00 - 10:15

Title: My AVN School Experience

Author: Ms Ann Njeri Ng'endo 
              Univeristy of Nairobi
              AVN Trainee 2016

I am from Nairobi, Kenya and I was among the first students to attend the Newton funded AVN school training in 2015. The first part of the training was held in Nairobi in October 2015 and was basically an introduction to Radio Astronomy. We, the Kenyans, joined the other batch of AVN trainees from Zambia for the second part of the training which was held at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in February- March 2016. This was the practical and hands-on training bit of the AVN School on Radio Astronomy. The AVN trainees’ first batch was lucky because we got an opportunity to attend the International VLBI Service (IVS) School held here at HartRAO, the first time such a training was held in Africa. Also, the school is held after every three years!At the IVS School, we were introduced to; the VLBI technique and principle, various softwares used for scheduling of VLBI experiments, VLBI data correlation and analysis centres, uses of VLBI in Astronomy, Geodesy and Astrometry, and applications of the VLBI technique in real life, such as in GPS.

The third and the last part of the AVN School training was held in Kenya, in June 2015. The training covered areas of Radio Astronomy data reduction methods and the softwares used for the same. After the school, I got an opportunity to work on a research project, which is still funded by the Newton Fund, at HartRAO. The project is looking on how best to optimise the AVN antennas for Astronomy, Geodesy and Astrometry. The school gave me an opportunity to learn from the best in this astronomy field, to travel and to meet different people in this field, and most importantly, it helped lay a foundation for my research path!

More about the author:


I grew up in Gilgil, a small military town about 140 km west of the capital, Nairobi. My father worked in the military and mother was a stay-at-home mum. I had one sibling, a smaller sister. I was a very competitive pupil and always topped my class in primary school. I enjoyed competing with boys and beating them in science and mathematical subjects, which were considered to be male oriented subjects. This trend continued throughout high school up to university. Growing up I always wanted to be a lawyer. However, all this changed during my last year in primary school after the NASA’s Columbia Shuttle accident which killed all the seven astronauts on board. After that accident, I was mesmerized by space and the universe at large, and I only wanted to study space and perhaps even become an astronaut! That’s the reason why I chose to do a BSc degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Nairobi. It was the only course focused on space studies in the whole country and mine was the pioneering class in Astronomy and Astrophysics. In the year 2013, I graduated with first class honours.

In 2015, I want back to school for my masters. I opted for MSc degree in Nuclear Science because we do not have a post graduate course on Astronomy and Astrophysics in the country. However, the Newton Fund AVN training came at the nick of time and drew me back to my first love, Astronomy. As a result, I am currently working on my research project for my MSc thesis titled: Optimising the African VLBI Network for Astronomy, Geodesy and Astrometry: A Case Study for Kenya. I am really excited because I am working on a real life science project and our results will be used in making some crucial decisions on the AVN! It has also given me a good opportunity to develop new technical skills in radio astronomy and core science at large, while building a valuable network within the radio astronomy community, which I would not have acquired at the graduate school. This experience will solidify my career path and build my resume as I work towards further studies and research in this field. It has enabled me to do a course/project at a radio observatory, the only one in Africa, something that was beyond my wildest imagination a few months ago.


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.



08 March 2017 11:30 - 12:30

Title: The Square Kilometre Array: Big Telescope, Big Science, Big Data

Author: Prof Russ Taylor
              SKA Research in Radio Astronomy
              University of Cape Town, and
              University of the Western Cape


The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a next generation global radio telescope currently undergoing final design by a collaboration of institutions in 11 countries. The SKA will be one of the largest scientific projects ever undertaken, designed to answer some of the big questions of our time: What is Dark Energy?  Was Einstein right about gravity? What is the nature of dark matter? Can we detect gravitational waves? When and how did the first stars and galaxies form? What was the origin of cosmic magnetic fields? How do Earth-like planets form? Is there life, intelligent or otherwise, elsewhere in the Universe? The SKA radio telescope dish array is coming to South Africa toward the end of this decade. When completed it will consist of thousands of radio antennas spread out over an area of thousands of kilometres in Southern Africa. The SKA will create 3D maps of the universe 10,000 times faster than any imaging radio telescope array ever built. Precursor telescopes based on SKA technologies are under construction here in South African and in Western Australia and will begin scientific investigations in late 2016. These developments foreshadow one of the most significant big data challenges of the coming decade and the beginning a new era of big data in radio astronomy. 

The SKA journey begins in Africa with the MeerKAT, a 64-element array of 13.5-m offset parabolic antennas. MeerKAT is a precursor of the SKA mid-frequency dish array, and following several years of operation as a South African telescope will be incorporated into the SKA phase 1 facility. Construction of MeerKAT is well advanced at the African SKA central site on the South African Karoo plateau. The MeerKAT science program will consist of key-science, legacy-style, Large Survey Projects, plus open time available for new proposals. The Large Survey Projects are direct pathfinder to key science programs being planned for the SKA.


More about the author:


Russ Taylor received a B.Sc in Astronomy, from the University of Western Ontario in 1976, and a Ph.D. in Physics (Radio Astronomy) from the University of British Columbia in 1982. He is currently the Director of the newly established Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy and a South African Joint Research Chair in Radio Astronomy at the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape. Before coming to South Africa in 2014, Professor Taylor was Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Calgary and Director of the three-university Institute for Space Imaging Science. Past positions include: Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy University of Calgary, Visiting Scientist, U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory; Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Australian Commonwealth Industrial Research Organization; Research Associate, University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank Observatory; Research Associate, University of Groningen, Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory; NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto.

He has served on numerous national and international committees and boards. Among these are several that impact planning and development of astronomy world-wide, including President of the Radio Astronomy Division of the International Astronomical Union. He has played a leading role on Square Kilometre Array Project since its inception, serving as founding Executive Secretary of the International Square Kilometre, Array Steering Committee, founding chair of the International SKA Science Advisory Committee, vice-chair of the International SKA Science and Engineering Committee, and as a member of the International Board of the Preparatory Phase Program for the SKA and of the International Board of the SKA Organization. As the founding SKA International Project Scientist in 1998 he co-authored the first science case for the SKA project.

On the research side, Taylor has published over 200 professional scientific articles, and has edited five books. He has mentored over 50 young scientists in radio astrophysics and the techniques of radio imaging of the sky. One was awarded the Henri Chrétien International Research Award from the American Astronomical Society in 1993 for work carried out under his supervision, and one graduate student was award the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Plaskett Medal for the best Canadian Ph.D. thesis in Astronomy.

Taylor was the Canadian Co-principal Investigator on the VSOP space mission, an international partnership that launched into space a radio telescope for Very Long Baseline Interferometry imaging between Earth and space. As part of the mission he directed one of three international centres for processing of the VSOP mission data.


09 March 2017 15:00 - 16:00

Title: Travels of a Scientist

Author: Prof Ludwig Combrinck
              Acting Managing Director, HartRAO


The field of space geodesy is diverse and multidisciplinary. This diversity requires equipment installations and collaborative networking which often requires travel to distant, remote and unique areas of the globe. In this talk a glimpse is given in the travels of a scientist as equipment installations and collaborations lead him across the globe. 


More about the author:


Ludwig Combrinck is currently the acting director of HartRAO and has a wide range of interests linked to the activities at HartRAO. He holds a PhD from the University of Cape Town (2000) and has actively persued the expansion of HartRAO’s research platform to create instrumental and human capacity at the facility. Today HartRAO is a fundamental geodetic site and fulfills a regional responsibility to the benefit of the global scientific community.


13 March 2017 14:00 - 16:00

Title: The Miraculous Bell at the Villa Griffone

Author: Mr Anthony (Tony) Voorveldt
              Chief Electronics Technician
              University of the Witwatersrand (retired)

This lecture demonstartion describes the discovery of electromagnetic waves by Heinrich Hertz. The discovery lead to the invention of radio (wireless) communication by Guglielmo Marconi in Italy 1895. 

Replicas of Marconi's apparatus will be demonstrated.

Additional demonstrations will be shown:

 1) How to build a simple Jupiter noise storm receiver and antennas.
 2) A VLF (very low frequency) solar flare receiver constructed by Domenic Toldo. 

More about the author:


I am a self taught scientific technician with interest in the fields of Astronomy, Electronics, Radio Communications (apprenticeship with Johannesburg Television and Radio) and Radar (active radio-ham ZS6CCD), a keen interest in the history of Science and Chemistry and an avid collector of antique scientific instruments. No interest in sports what-so-ever. Enjoy spreading the gospel according to Einstein, Newton Faraday, Marconi and Edison. Worked as chief electronics technician at the CSIR/NASA Hartebeesthoek Satellite Tracking Station and the Johannesburg Planetarium in the 1960's. Worked at the University of the Witwatersrand for 34 years, at the Central Electronic Services (Planetarium) for 7 years and in the School of Physics for 27 years. Retired from the University of the Witwatersrand, School of Physics in 2011. My wife Denise and I continue to present popular science and astronomy lectures to public organisations and schools on behalf of the School of Physics. 


16 March 2017 15:00 - 16:00

Title: Astrophysical Radiation Mechanisms


Author: Prof Markus Böttcher
              Professor and SARChI Chair of Astrophysics and Space Physics
              Centre for Space Research
              North-West University, Potchefstroom 

This talk will provide a brief introduction to astrophysical radiation mechanisms, with emphasis on the mechanisms most relevant in high-energy sources, which are typically observed in radio and gamma-rays. We will discuss in more detail synchrotron radiation and Compton scattering, including spectral and polarization signatures, as well as their cooling effect on relativistic electrons in astrophysical high-energy sources.

More about the author:

Markus Boettcher

MB obtained his Ph.D. in 1997 from the University of Bonn, based on research conducted at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at Rice University, Houston, TX, USA, from 1997 - 2002, and was on the faculty (as assistant, associate, and full professor) of Ohio University, Athens, OH, USA, from 2002 - 2013. Since 2013, he holds the SARChI Chair of Astrophysics and Space Physics at North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.

His primary research interests revolve around relativistic jet sources, such as active galactic nuclei, gamma-ray bursts, and X-ray binaries. He is involved in the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S., the world's largest ground-based gamma-ray observatory located in Namibia) collaboration and the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA, the future, next-generation ground based gamma-ray observatory) Consortium. He is the chair of the South African Gamma-Ray Astronomy Programme, co-ordinating the South African participation in H.E.S.S. and CTA.


17 March 2017 15:00 - 16:00

Title: The path less travelled.
          The adventures of building the African VLBI Network

Author: Mr Nkululeko Qwabe 
              Software Engineer, SKA-SA

Nkululeko Qwabe has been working on the AVN project of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) since July 2013. During this time he has been working in the development of software for the first AVN station in Kuntunse Ghana and other projects within SKA. As a small boy growing up in the remote town of Mtubatuba in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, he was always fascinated by the stars and the mystery of what lies beyond what the naked eye can see. This fueled his dream of one day working in Astronomy. As the person responsible for the all AVN VLBI backend systems, engagement and learning of various aspects of VLBI instrumentation, implementation and operations from experts from different organisations around the world, is required, for the translation and application of this knowledge to the development of the AVN stations across Africa. This talk takes you through the journey travelled by a young man from rural KwaZulu-Natal, working at the SKA on the AVN project. The focus is on the passion for outreach and educating the general public about Astronomy.

More about the author:


I joined the SKA in 2013 as a Junior Software Engineer to assist the Lead Software Engineer in designing, implementing, integrating, testing, deploying and maintaining software for the African VLBI Network telescopes. I am now working as a Software Engineer responsible for the VLBI backends and the Field System integration.

I am from a small town called Mtubatuba on the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal. I was born and bred, and got all my basic education there. I did a Computer Science degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) majoring in Computer Science and Information Systems. I have since worked for the CSIR as an intern GIS Software Developer and the Durban University of Technology as a Systems Administrator. I am also currently doing my honours in Computing with the University of South Africa (UNISA).

My role at the AVN is to write software, mostly interfaces between the VLBI backend system, the Field System and the Station Control software for AVN stations. This includes among other things; deriving software requirements from User Requirements, performing hardware-software integration and providing assistance and knowledge transfer to SKA partner countries.

I have been passionate about Astronomy from an early age. I am also passionate about outreach and knowledge transfer, especially to disadvantaged communities. I regularly take part in outreach events to teach communities and school children and students about Astronomy and Radio Astronomy.


20 March 2017 16:30 - 17:30

Title: Radio Telescopes of the Future

Author: Mrs Cristina García Miró
              Radio Astronomy Engineer
              Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex


This talk describes the desired characteristics of the future radio telescopes based on the deficiencies of the current ones and outlines different future projects, from gigantic arrays of antennas as the Square Kilometre Array, to space antennas or low frequency receivers in the dark side of the moon.


More about the author:


Cristina García Miró received her Bachelor of Science in Physics from the Complutense University of Madrid (1994) and her Master of Science in Astrophysics from the same university (1997) and the Granada University (2003). She started her scientific career at the Laboratory of Space Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics of the Spanish Aerospace Institute (INTA) supporting the Host Country Radio Astronomy activities at the NASA’s Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex. She also worked as a spacecraft controller and telescope operator of the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite (NASA/ESA).

After a research stay at the Astrophysics Institute of Andalucía (IAA) of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research she started working in the NASA’s Madrid Deep Space Complex as Radio Astronomy Engineer (2000-date). She is currently responsible for all the Radio Astronomy activities in the complex and collaborates in the astronomical educational projects PARTNeR (NASA) and CESAR (ESA/INTA/ISDEFE). She also participates in several research programs (INTA/ISDEFE) and has published scientific results in well-known research journals.

She has received two NASA group achievement awards.


 22 March 2017 16:30 - 17:30

Title: Radio Astronomy with the NASA DSN

Authors: Mrs Cristina García Miró
                Radio Astronomy Engineer
                Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex

                Mr Christopher Jacobs
                JPL, Caltech / NASA

The Deep Space Network (DSN) is the larger and most sensitive network of antennas in the world used by NASA and international space agencies to communicate with spacecraft across the solar system. This talk will explain the importance of the usage of the DSN for Radio Astronomy studies and will review the different scientific projects in which it is currently involved.


More about the author:


Cristina García Miró received her Bachelor of Science in Physics from the Complutense University of Madrid (1994) and her Master of Science in Astrophysics from the same university (1997) and the Granada University (2003). She started her scientific career at the Laboratory of Space Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics of the Spanish Aerospace Institute (INTA) supporting the Host Country Radio Astronomy activities at the NASA’s Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex. She also worked as a spacecraft controller and telescope operator of the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite (NASA/ESA). 

After a research stay at the Astrophysics Institute of Andalucía (IAA) of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research she started working in the NASA’s Madrid Deep Space Complex as Radio Astronomy Engineer (2000-date). She is currently responsible for all the Radio Astronomy activities in the complex and collaborates in the astronomical educational projects PARTNeR (NASA) and CESAR (ESA/INTA/ISDEFE). She also participates in several research programs (INTA/ISDEFE) and has published scientific results in well-known research journals. 

She has received two NASA group achievement awards.


23 March 2017 16:30 - 17:30

Title: VLBI Simulations and their Applications for the AVN

Author: Mr David Mayer
              Technische Universität Wien, Research Group Advanced Geodesy

VLBI is the only space geodetic technique which is able to orientate the Earth in space. The quality of such a position depends mainly on the distribution of stations around the globe. Therefore, remote stations (such as HartRAO) are of high importance for the community. But how can we quantify the impact a station has on the overall performance of the network? Furthermore, how should we decide where to invest in new telescopes and how much would the final product benefit from the investment.

These questions can be answered with VLBI simulations. We will present two studies which are of interest for the African VLBI community. In the first study, the importance for the only African VLBI station which is observing at the moment (HartRAO) will be evaluated. The second study, will look at potential networks using artificial telescopes placed on possible future sites in Africa.

More about the author:


David Mayer is a Ph.D. student at the Technische Universität Wien. He studied Advanced Geodesy and Geophysics and got his master’s degree from the Technische Universität Wien in 2015. In the course of his Master’s program he spent a year at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory where he wrote his thesis “Importance of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory for the VLBI network”.

One of his responsibilities was/is the creation of schedules for the AuScope VLBI network where he created more than 100 schedules from 2014 to 2016.

David is a member of the IVS and is currently cooperating with the ICRF-3 working group creating the next generation of the international celestial reference frame.



24 March 2017 14:30 - 15:30

Title: Stellar GPS: Navigating the Solar System

Authors: Mr Christopher Jacobs
                JPL, Caltech / NASA

                 Mrs Cristina García Miró
                 Radio Astronomy Engineer
                 Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex

How does one navigate to a planet such as Mars?     Will GPS work?

Since ancient times sailors have navigated by following a path guided by markers with known locations: bottom sounding, landmarks such as mountain peaks, and of course stars overhead in the sky. In modern times the GPS satellites in the sky are providing the needed markers. However, when our spacecraft travel to the planets they go beyond the reach of GPS signals. What then can the navigator do?

Needing markers which are very, very stable in position and very far away, the modern navigator chooses beacons powered by supermassive black holes: quasars! Yet even super-powerful quasar signals are very diluted by the time they travel billions of light years to Earth. So we need large antennas (~30-meters) and super-cooled electronics (-270 deg C) and averaging over billions of bits of data in order to detect the quasar signals—and even that is not enough. Next we need to link antennas from around the world into a super-antenna we call an "interferometer." Only then, with these super-antennas and their lever arms the size of the Earth, can we pinpoint the location of the spacecraft to within about the 100 meters accuracy needed to initiate the landing sequence from the top of the Martian atmosphere.

The last part of the trip is the most exciting. First, a parachute slows the lander down enough to fly on auto-pilot (because round trip light time is ~10 minutes) using radar to guide us almost to the ground. Lastly, in the case of MSL, the Curiosity Rover is lowered from a sky crane”. Mission accomplished!

More about the author:

Chris telescopio

Christopher Jacobs is a senior deep space navigation engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology. Jacobs holds a degree in Applied Physics from Caltech. He joined JPL in 1983 and has taken on roles of increasing responsibility in the area of deep space tracking specializing in the area of celestial and terrestrial reference frames. He has served as the Reference Frame Calibration task manager for 25 years in which role he has been responsible for delivering the reference frames used to navigate NASA missions such as MSL to planetary targets.

Jacobs is a member of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the International VLBI Service (IVS) including its education committee, and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) where he has served on the working group for the International Celestial Reference Frame for over 20 years. Recently he chaired the working group responsible for the next generation international celestial reference frame (ICRF-3).

Jacobs has spoken professionally in numerous countries spanning six continents, has authored or co-authored over 200 papers (both refereed, conference). He has founded several international collaborations for the development of reference

He has an active interest in professional education having taught at professional training schools sponsored by the IVS, the association for European VLBI for Geodesy and Astrometry (EVGA). He is also active in public education and outreach having given public lectures in a diverse range of places spanning from Spain to the Azores, England and South Africa and covering a diverse range of levels from primary schools to universities and public planetariums.

His publication history has focussed on developing international standard reference frames for global use including the famous International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF) papers which initiated a new era in measuring positions on the sky. He was recently awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Achievement in recognition of his work.

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