OXFORDSHIRE scientists are helping to build the world’s largest radio telescope to listen ‘back through time’.

When complete, the MeerKAT telescope will be the most powerful radio telescope on earth.

It will collect radio signals from the furthest reaches of the universe – possibly even the first stars and galaxies formed.

Oxford Cryosystems, based in Long Hanborough, has custom-built cryocoolers to chill the telescope’s sensitive radio receivers to –250C, reducing “noise” that could interfere with the readings.

On March 27, directors Richard Glazer and Alex Renshaw joined a delegation of international dignitaries in unveiling the first of MeerKAT’s 64 antennae, in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.

Mr Glazer said: “We are honoured to be a part of this international collaboration.

“There are so many countries and organisations involved in designing, developing and building the MeerKAT array and it is a significant development opportunity for Oxford Cryosystems.”

The full MeerKAT array of 64 antennae will operate as a single, highly-sensitive astronomical instrument.

Astronomers around the world will use the facility to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail, faster than any system currently in existence.

When fully operational by 2016, MeerKAT will generate enough data to fill about 4.5 million, 4.7GB DVDs in a day.

Oxford Cryosystems is set to sign a £600,000 contract with the South African government in June to build two cryocoolers for each antenna.

Mr Glazer added: “This is completely different from anything we are used to.

“In South Africa we jumped on to a light aircraft and flew out into the desert to unveil the antenna.”

The 42-year-old dad-of-one from Faringdon said: “It is nice to be involved with something that means something to people.

“We have a history of working with many of the world’s top science and research organisations, but working on MeerKAT we are developing cutting-edge technology which will help to push the boundaries of knowledge about our universe.”

MeerKAT is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international $1.5bn project to build the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world, with sites based in South Africa and Australia.

UK Science Minister David Willetts recently pledged £100m of funding towards building the SKA.

Oxford Cryosystems, founded 30 years ago, now employs 20 staff, and normally builds cooling units for more down-to-earth technology, including X-Ray crystallography machines and MRI scanners for hospitals.

This is the first time it has ventured into a space-based project.