One of the world’s fastest supercomputers to go online in South Africa

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is set to construct two supercomputers that would rank as the sixth fastest in the world, according to Top500 rankings. These supercomputers, known as science data processors, will be built for the SKA-Mid and SKA-Low arrays, with one of them located in Cape Town, South Africa. Each supercomputer will have a processing speed of approximately 135 petaFLOPS.

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Currently, the US-based Frontier supercomputer leads the pack with a processing speed of 1.1 exaFLOPS, surpassing its closest competitor, the Fugaku supercomputer in Japan. Morocco’s Toubkal supercomputer, the fastest in Africa, holds the 180th position on the Top500 list. Once completed, the SKA supercomputers will be more than 30 times faster than the Moroccan machine.

The process of awarding tenders for the construction of the South African supercomputer is scheduled to commence in the first quarter of 2024, with a goal of completing construction within three years from that date. The SKA project aims to create the largest scientific instrument globally, with the radio telescope unlocking the mysteries of the early universe and testing scientific theories, including gravity.

In 2012, South Africa secured the bid to host the SKA-Mid telescope, designed to detect radio waves within the frequency range of 0.35 gigahertz to 15.4 gigahertz. Australia, on the other hand, won the bid for hosting the SKA-Low Telescope, which detects lower-frequency radio waves.

The data requirements for the SKA project are immense. For the SKA-Mid project alone, data from all 197 dishes needs to be collected and sent to the central data processing facility. The supercomputer will handle up to 8.9 terabits of data per second from the SKA-Mid Central Signal Processor, which will be transmitted through hundreds of kilometres of fibre-optic cables to reach the science data processor.

Upon completion, the SKA project is expected to revolutionize our understanding of the universe, making significant contributions to scientific research and advancements in astronomy.