About SKA Design

Designing the

Square Kilometre Array

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Assembly, Integration and Verification

The Assembly Integration and Verification (AIV) element includes the planning for all activities at the remote sites that are necessary to incorporate the elements of the SKA into existing infrastructures whether these be precursors or new components of the SKA. In particular, this includes integrating the 64-dish MeerKAT array into the SKA1-mid telescope in South Africa. The consortium is led by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, SARAO.

Central Signal Processor

The Central Signal Processor or CSP is the central processing “brain” of the SKA. It converts digitised astronomical signals detected by SKA receivers into the vital information needed by the Science Data Processor to make detailed images of deep space astronomical phenomena that the SKA is observing. It will also design a “non-image processor” in order to facilitate the most comprehensive and ambitious survey yet to find new pulsars and precisely time known pulsars. The lead organisation of the Consortium is the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

Dish

The Dish element of the SKA is probably what most people think of as a radio telescope. The international Consortium is responsible for the design and verification of the antenna structure, optics, feed suites, receivers, and all supporting systems and infrastructure ahead of the production of the 133 SKA-mid dishes in Phase 1 of construction of the SKA. The selected design for the SKA dish is a German / Chinese collaboration between MT Mechatronics and CETC54. The consortium is led by CETC54 in China.

Infrastructure Australia

The Infrastructure element covers both the Infrastructure in Africa and in Australia. It includes all work undertaken to deploy and be able to operate the SKA in both countries. Infrastructure includes roads, buildings, power generation and distribution, reticulation, vehicles, cranes and specialist equipment needed for maintenance that are not included in the supply of the other elements. The INFRA AU Consortium is led and managed by CSIRO in Australia.

Infrastructure South Africa

The Infrastructure element covers both the Infrastructure in Africa and in Australia. It includes all work undertaken to deploy and be able to operate the SKA in both countries. Infrastructure includes roads, buildings, power generation and distribution, reticulation, vehicles, cranes and specialist equipment needed for maintenance that are not included in the supply of the other elements. The INFRA SA Consortium is led and managed by SKA South Africa (now integrated into the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, SARAO) Infrastructure team, which has previously worked on the infrastructure for both the KAT7 and MeerKAT telescopes.

Low Corelator Beam-Former

The Low Corelator and Beam Former is the set of processors where the signals from all the antenna stations are collected and multiplied or assembled.

Low-Frequency Aperture Array

The Low-Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) element is the set of antennas, on board amplifiers and local processing required for the SKA-low telescope, representing over 130,000 low frequency antennas covering the 50 MHz to 350 MHz frequency range to be installed at the Australian SKA site in Western Australia. LFAA includes the design of the local station signal processing and hardware required to combine the antennas and the transport of antenna data to the station processing, called the Antenna Array Verification System 1 or AAVS1. The consortium is led by ASTRON in the Netherlands.

Mid Correlator Beam-Former

The Mid Correlator and Beam Former is the set of processors where the signals from all the dishes are collected and multiplied or assembled.

Network

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Pulsar Search

The Pulsar Search is the set of processors used to identify new pulsars in the sky.

Pulsar Timing

The Pulsar Timing is the set of processors used to time the precise arrival of pulses for each pulsar.

Science Data Processor

The Science Data Processor (SDP) element will focus on the design of the computing hardware platforms, software, and algorithms needed to process science data from the correlator or non-imaging processor into science data products. The Science Data Processor will have to manage the vast amounts of data being generated by the telescopes. From spectral and continuum sky surveys, to more targeted observations of objects both near and far, the SDP will ingest the data, and move it through data reduction pipelines at staggering speeds, to then form data packages which will then be passed to the scientists, and in almost realtime, make decisions about noise that is not part of those delicate radio signals. The consortium is led by the University of Cambridge in the UK.

Signal and Data Transport

Signal and data transport is the backbone of the SKA telescope. The Signal and Data Transport (SaDT) Consortium is responsible for the design of three data transport networks. These include the Digital Data Backhaul (DDBH) that transports signals from the radio telescopes to the Central Signal Processor (CSP), and data products from the CSP to the Science Data Processor (SDP) and from the SDP to the regional SKA Data Centres. SaDT’s work also includes the design of clocks and a custom-made frequency distribution system. The consortium is led by the University of Manchester in the UK.

Sync and Timing

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Telescope Manager

What do we mean when we refer to Telescope Manager (TM) in the SKA design?

The “Telescope Manager” element includes all hardware and software necessary to control the telescope and associated infrastructure. The TM includes the co-ordination of the systems at observatory level and the software necessary for scheduling the telescope operations. It also includes the central monitoring of key performance metrics and the provision of central co-ordination of safety signals generated by the SKA elements. The TM provides physical and software access to, and at, remote locations for transmission of diagnostic data and local control. The TM, however, does not include local control, whether hardware or embedded software, of units (e.g. individual dishes, beam formers, building control systems). It also does not include the generation of local metrics (e.g. tracking stability of dish, power consumption of LFAA).

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More about the TM

The TM is a critical work package element identified for the detailed design phase that the SKA project entered in 2013. This three-year long project in design and development, when complete, will be responsible for the monitoring of the entire telescope, the engineering and operational status of its component parts.

The TM is also responsible for enabling control of various sub-systems and their associated components, as well as provide and support online and physical access.

The scale of monitoring is vast, as the TM will send control signals when needed, detect and manage faults if they arise, control associated infrastructure, and coordinate the handling of safety signals.

In addition to these core responsibilities of monitoring and control, the TM is also responsible for coordinating observations, including telescope operations, operator infrastructure, metadata collection, archiving of collected monitor and control data, and much more.

Linking up

The TM also links to a number of other work package elements through interfaces and provides the backbone for the functioning of the telescope arrays.

In summary, the TM is responsible for the management of all astronomical observations, management of all the telescope hardware and software systems that perform the observations and facilitating communication across the primary stakeholders, in addition to ensuring safety.

The TM Consortium

There is substantial experience amongst the consortium members in the field of Monitoring and Control, in projects of large scale and complexity. SKA South Africa members are intimately involved in the design, implementation and verification of the entire M&C of MeerKAT. Similarly, the member from CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is in the M&C design team of ASKAP. The team members from ATC-STFC were responsible for the Observation Management part of the ALMA telescope, which is currently functional. TCS R & I (TCS Research and Innovation) has been developing model-driven software frameworks for a generic M&C systems. This has been tested and implemented on both ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope. NCRA-TIFR has built and maintains and runs the GMRT (Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope) and is currently working on upgrading its M&C using a modern hierarchical generic system.

The TM Consortium is led by Professor Yashwant Gupta of the NCRA (National Centre for Radio Astrophysics) in Pune, India.

Institutions involved in the TM Consortium include:

Contact information of people involved at each institution can be provided by the consortium lead Yashwant Gupta

Assembly, Integration and Verification
Central Signal Processor
Dish
Infrastructure Australia
Infrastructure South Africa
Low Corelator Beam-Former
Low-Frequency Aperture Array
Mid Correlator Beam-Former
Network
Pulsar Timing
Science Data Processor
Signal and Data Transport
Sync and Timing
Telescope Manager

  • ASTRON develops heart of new supercomputer for world’s largest radio telescope
  • Swedish receiver to catch cosmic waves in the world's largest radio telescope
  • SKA Prototype Dish Assembled For The First Time
  • Across 18 Time Zones: A Global Effort To Deliver A Dish Prototype
  • First SKA-Low Prototype Station Completed On Site
  • From Lab To Outback: The Story Of AAVS1 So Far
  • Synchronisation System Designs Chosen For SKA Telescopes
  • Indian-led Telescope Manager consortium concludes design work on SKA

ASTRON develops heart of new supercomputer for world’s largest radio telescope

In a partnership with the Australian research institute CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and Auckland University of Technology, ASTRON, the Dutch Institute for Radio Astronomy is developing the computer board Gemini, which will help process the data of the SKA-low telescope in Western Australia. Thanks to Gemini, it will be possible to combine the thousands of antennas into one large telescope.

Gemini is a computer board containing the newest processor from the company Xilinx Inc., also called a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). This allows it to process vast amounts of data continuously. In order to process and combine all data streams from SKA in Australia, the Central Signal Processor will ultimately be made with a total of 288 Gemini boards.

“After combining the data per antenna field, the supercomputer has to process a total of 5.8 Terabit per second of data. That is why these boards with efficient processors are necessary”, explains ASTRON engineer Gijs Schoonderbeek. “For comparison: the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, the largest internet hub in the Netherlands, has an average data flow at the entrance of 3.4 Terabit per second.

For Gemini, a lot of energy is needed that is converted into heat. In order to optimally cool the processor, ASTRON has developed a special water block. “The water drains the heat directly from the processor to a cool place deep under the ground of the Australian desert,” says Schoonderbeek. “In this way we cool the processor more optimally than with traditional air cooling. An additional advantage is that the energy consumption is lower when the processor is cooler.”

The work is being done as part of the Central Signal Processor international consortium, led by the National Research Council of Canada.

Swedish receiver to catch cosmic waves in the world's largest radio telescope

Onsala, Sweden, Thursday 21 June 2018 – Just arrived in South Africa, Chalmers’ most advanced radio receiver is Sweden’s main contribution to the record-breaking telescope SKA . The advanced prototype, now being tested in the Karoo Desert, is not only shiny and new. It’s also an important step towards a radio telescope that will challenge our ideas of time and space.
Onsala Space Observatory has delivered its largest technology contribution to the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) project. A metre (3 ft) across, the 180 kg (400 lb) instrument is the first in place of over a hundred to be mounted on dish antennas in the Karoo Desert, today home to the 64-dish-strong new MeerKAT telescope.
The Band 1 receiver, as it is called, allows the dish to measure radio waves with a frequency between 0.35 and 1.05 Gigahertz (wavelength 30-85 cm).
The Band 1 feed has a curved profile with four ridges on the inside. This Quadridge design was be adapted to SKA project requirements using mathematics, physics and optimisation algorithms, explains Jonas Flygare, PhD student at Chalmers. “We determined the feed’s curved lines using algorithms that stochastically search for those shapes that best receive the radio waves, given our specifications. To find the optimum design you need to simulate a great number of different shapes of the antenna. (Credit: Chalmers / Johan Bodell)

The receiver is being tested on one of the 64 antennas in MeerKAT, one of today’s largest radio telescopes and is in the same location in the Karoo desert where the SKA’s antennas will be located. The instrument is a prototype manufactured in Sweden by Chalmers University of Technology in collaboration with Swedish industry, and it is designed to be mass-produced.

Sweden is one of 11 countries in the international SKA project, which will build the world’s largest radio telescope at radio-quiet sites in Africa and Australia. The project is approaching the end of its design phase and construction is expected to start in the early 2020s.
As part of the SKA, Swedish receivers will participate in measurements of radio waves from many different sources in space. Scientists expect to make most sensitive radio measurements ever. They plan to test Einstein’s theories to their limits and to explore the history of the universe by measuring millions of galaxies at distances of millions of light years.
“This is a proud moment for us, getting a first glimpse of what the world’s biggest radio telescope will be like. We work with developing the world’s best receiver technology and hope that our contribution to the telescope will make it possible for humanity to see things we have never seen before”, says Miroslav Pantaleev, project manager for SKA at Onsala Space Observatory.
The receiver’s journey to Africa has been preceded by intensive collaboration between researchers and engineers at Onsala Space Observatory together with industrial partners, to ensure both performance and resilience. Before its trip, the instrument underwent tough environmental tests in Sweden, both in Onsala and at Saab Bofors Test Centre in Karlskoga.
John Conway, professor of observational radio astronomy at Chalmers and director of Onsala Space Observatory, looks forward beyond MeerKAT to the future dish array, SKA-mid.
“When the dishes in SKA-mid are operational, the world’s astronomers will be able to access the world’s most sensitive radio telescope and many exciting projects will be possible. We hope, among other things, to find new pulsars to test Einstein’s theories, to study in detail how galaxies like the Milky Way were built during the history of the universe – and, of course, to make unexpected discoveries”, he says.
The engineers in the Band 1 project at Onsala Space Observatory. From left: Lars Wennerbäck, Miroslav Pantaleev, Jan Karaskuru, Per Björklund, Christer Hermansson, Leif Helldner, Bo Wästberg, Jonas Flygare, Lars Pettersson, Ronny Wingdén, Magnus Dahlgren and Ulf Kylenfall. (Credit: Chalmers / Johan Bodell)

SKA Prototype Dish Assembled For The First Time

Shijiazhuang, China, Tuesday 6 FebruaryThe first fully assembled SKA dish was unveiled today at a ceremony in Shijiazhuang, China, by the Vice Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, in the presence of representatives from the countries involved and the SKA Organisation. The dish is one of two final prototypes that will be tested ahead of production of an early array.

In a major milestone for the SKA Project, the 54th Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54) has completed the structural assembly of the first SKA dish, bringing together components from China, Germany, and Italy.

The state-of-the-art 15-metre diameter dish was unveiled today at a ceremony in Shijiazhuang, China, hosted by the SKA Organisation and the SKA China Office and organised by the Joint Laboratory for Radio Astronomy Technology (JLRAT) and the SKA Dish consortium, supported by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the CETC group.

“This is a major achievement by all the partners involved” said Prof. Philip Diamond, Director-General of the SKA Organisation, which is overseeing the project. “After many years of intense design effort, we have an actual SKA dish, built by an international collaboration between China, Germany and Italy that is very much representative of the global nature of the SKA project.”

“Our Chinese partners are extremely well resourced. They’ve demonstrated that they have the technology and capability to construct a telescope with the specifications that the SKA requires”, adds Mark Harman, SKA Organisation Project Manager for the Dish consortium

An international effort across 18 time zones

This year will see the culmination of a 3-year effort by an international consortium that includes institutions in China acting as the consortium lead, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and Sweden, overseen by the SKA Organisation.

Across 18 time zones, extensive work has taken place to reach this point as the various teams around the world work towards building a fully functional SKA dish prototype.

CETC54 has been leading the design and production of the prototype dish, in particular the production of its highly precise main reflector, sub-reflector, backup structure, and pedestal.

“This is a mature method developed by CETC54. Applied to the SKA dish, it allows us to achieve and maintain the dish surface to a very precise surface-accuracy level as well as consistency for all panels”, said Wang Feng from the Joint Laboratory for Radio Astronomy Technology (JLRAT), recently appointed SKA Dish Consortium Lead.

In Mainz, Germany, MT Mechatronics (MTM) have been designing and manufacturing the precise hardware and electronics – such as the Drive Units and Electronics – used to move the dish.

“We’ve been entrusted with demonstrating precision engineering in order to move the telescopes with up to a thousandth of a degree accuracy, as well as reliability to produce over 130 such systems behaving equally well.” comments Lutz Stenvers, Managing Director from MTM and SKA Dish Structure Lead Engineer.

In Italy, near Naples, the Società Aerospaziale Mediterranea (SAM) has been working on the design and production of the feed indexer, an electro-mechanical component that will support the various receivers and move them into position to align them with the optics of the dish when required, depending on the observations.

“The feed indexer is a very innovative part of the dish, the first of its kind. We’ve got stringent requirements, as the indexer needs to move with high accuracy to position the receivers with sub-millimetric precision, and it also needs to be able to sustain heavy loads, with for example the Band 1 receiver alone weighing 165kg” explains Renato Aurigemma, the SAM team coordinator.

Today, for the first time, all these components came together at CETC54’s assembly workshop to test how the structure as a whole behaves.

“We will be putting the dish through its paces to see how it responds to different commands and whether it performs as expected” adds Wang Feng. “This will allow us to spot any discrepancies and fine tune the design if needed. The next step will be to test it on site with its instrumentation.”

A second dish, currently under production at CETC54 and funded by the German Max Planck Society, will be shipped to South Africa and assembled at the South African SKA site in the next few months where it will be equipped with its instrumentation and used to conduct real observations for the first time to test its performance and calibrate all the systems.

Instrumentation & control

Onsala Space Observatory at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, EMSS Antennas in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and Oxford University and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the United Kingdom have been working on the various receivers that will be fitted on this second dish, covering a broad frequency range from 350 MHz to 15.3 GHz.

Additional institutes involved include the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), who are developing the software to monitor, coordinate and control the Dish subsystems. A group of engineers at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada, are developing the hardware that digitises the signals recorded with each of the five receivers while The University of Bordeaux, France contributes their expertise to digitise high frequency signals. SKA South Africa has been leading the System Engineering, which played a key role in coordinating the consortium.

Early Production

The SKA prototype dish unveiled today is being delivered as part of the consortium’s critical design review – the final stage of design work before construction. It and the Max-Planck funded dish, are the final precursors to a further series of up to six SKA dishes that will form an Early Production Array (EPA), expected to be built on site from 2019 under the leadership of the SKA Organisation.

The EPA will be used to demonstrate a working array, allowing engineers to spot any further design or production issues ahead of full-scale production. Additionally, it will for the first time provide an opportunity to integrate dishes with prototypes of other critical SKA elements provided by their respective design institutions such as the Signal and Data network, the Central Signal Processor where the signals from all dishes are correlated, the Science Data Processor (the imaging software) and the Telescope Manager software used to send commands to the dishes and monitor their status.

“The EPA will allow us not only to bring production and construction forward but it will also allow us to test how key SKA components work together on the field. In essence, it’s bringing the various pieces of this puzzle together to see if they match and produce the image that we expect” concludes Joe McMullin, recently appointed as SKA Programme Director.

Across 18 Time Zones: A Global Effort To Deliver A Dish Prototype

21 December 2017, SKA Global Headquarters, Jodrell Bank, UK – In the second part of our feature story on designing the SKA telescopes, we look back at the ongoing global effort to deliver the SKA dish prototype, with work happening in many countries.

As the year comes to a close and many of us wind down for the holiday season, teams of scientists, engineers and manufacturers in Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, UK and South Africa – all part of an international consortium – are busy designing, manufacturing, testing and refining optics, structures and instruments before they can be brought together to become what is perhaps the most familiar part of a radio telescope: a dish.

Across 18 time zones, extensive work has taken place over the past 19 months as the teams press on towards building a fully functional SKA dish prototype with all optics and three receivers. Eventually, the SKA1-mid instrument, the South African arm of the first phase of the SKA telescope, will comprise of 133 dishes, complemented by the 64 dishes of the MeerKAT telescope already installed in the Karoo region.

The background

Three different antenna concepts were initially developed to be considered for the design of the SKA dish. All three were constructed using different technology from different partners, representing the very best in radio telescope dish technology currently available.

The international panel of experts chaired by Dr. Richard Hills at the CETC54 fabrication workshop in Shijiazhuang, China. Credit: CETC54

In May 2016, following a unanimous recommendation by a five-strong selection panel of engineering experts in the fields of composites, radio telescope antennas and systems engineering, the SKA Organisation selected concepts proposed by a Shijiazhuang, China-based team composed of the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54) and their European partner, MT Mechatronics (MTM) of Mainz, Germany and S.A.M from Naples.

The selected design was an optimised panel space-frame supported metal (PSM) concept, made up of 66 panels for the main reflector.

Roger Franzen, SKA Dish Consortium Lead at the time said “We are confident the selected design will perform well in the harsh conditions of the Karoo in South Africa and will deliver the precision that the scientific community needs to answer the questions they’re trying to solve. The next step for us is to build and test a prototype at the South African site.”

And this is exactly what the international team set out to achieve, each working against the clock on a piece of this international puzzle…

Chinese innovation for high precision on a large scale

CETC54 have undertaken the production of the main reflector, sub-reflector, backup structure and pedestal for the dish. Since 2016, the group have produced 66 unique moulds to shape the 66 different metallic triangular 3m-a-side panels that make up the main reflector, each with its own specific curvature depending on its position.

Each mould weighs between 4 and 5 tons and was made with an average surface accuracy between 0.010 and 0.030 mm – less than the width of a human hair.

One of the main challenges faced by the group is to deliver optimum performance in terms of surface accuracy and curvature, replicated for each of the 66 panels, and in the future for each dish. In total, 8778 such panels will need to meet the exact same specifications in the first phase of construction of the SKA. Whilst the tolerances are not as tight as their optical counterparts due to the fact that radio wavelengths are longer than optical wavelengths, they still have to be built to a level of precision unsurpassed in the field of radio astronomy.

The panel is formed and shaped on the mould using suction while its backup structure is attached and formed. It is then bonded using a special high performance adhesive.

“This is a mature method created by CETC54. Applied to the SKA panels, it allows us to achieve and maintain the dish surface to a very precise surface-accuracy level as well as consistency for all panels”, said Wang Feng from the Joint Laboratory for Radio Astronomy Technology (JLRAT), recently appointed SKA Dish Consortium Lead.

“Our Chinese partners are extremely well resourced. They’ve demonstrated that they have the technology and capability to construct a telescope with the requirements that the SKA have”, adds Mark Harman, SKA Organisation Project Manager for the Dish consortium during a visit of the fabrication workshop in September 2017 as production was in full swing.

As 2017 comes to an end, all moulds have been produced and the team is busy finishing the production of the 66 panels.

German engineering for precision movement

RFI compliance

The SKA sites were chosen for their radio-quietness, which will allow the telescopes to detect the faint signals coming from Space. To preserve this pristine environment, the SKA project is going to great lengths to make sure that all equipment eventually installed on site – from the solar panels used to generate electricity to the large server racks needed to process the signals, the instrumentation on the dishes themselves and indeed the servomotors inside the pedestals – emits a minimum of radio frequency interference (RFI) and is properly shielded so that their emissions don’t swamp out the signals that the telescope is trying to pick up.

Meanwhile at their integration facility in Mainz, Germany, MT Mechatronics (MTM) have been designing and manufacturing the precise hardware and electronics – such as the Drive Units and Electronics – used to move the dish.

Their challenge is to manufacture high quality equipment to fit in a restricted space pre-determined by the diameter and height of the pedestal, as well as to make that equipment RFI-compliant.

These servo drive systems are crucial to the proper and precise operation of the dish. If an alert is sent out, the SKA telescope will need to move and point at a new object with a precision of a few arcseconds (1/3600 of a degree)  to follow up on transient events like supernovae and fast radio bursts. It’s an essential capability for a responsive telescope.

“Our challenge is to design and manufacture servo drive systems that will be able to translate the instructions from the Telescope Manager software to move the hundreds of SKA dishes synchronously and with that level of precision under the harsh environmental conditions of the Karoo area” explains MTM’s Managing Director and SKA Dish Structure Lead Engineer Lutz Stenvers.

This requirement adds another layer of complexity on top of the performance expected of the SKA-mid dish telescope.

In the next few days, the servo systems will be packed and shipped to China to be assembled with the rest of the dish during the Christmas period. MTM engineers will then travel to CETC54 in January to commission the servomotors.

Italian creativity for flexible & reliable instrumentation

The feed indexer undergoing tests at the SAM workshop near Naples. Credit: SAM

In Italy, near Naples, the Società Aerospaziale Mediterranea (SAM) is working on the design and production of the feed indexer, an electro-mechanical component that will support the various receivers and move them into position to align them with the optics of the dish when required, depending on the observations.

Renato Aurigemma, the SAM team coordinator, is rightly very proud of it. “The feed indexer is a very innovative part of the dish, the first of its kind. We’ve got stringent requirements, as the indexer needs to move with high accuracy to position the receivers with sub-millimetric precision, and it also needs to be able to sustain heavy loads, with for example the Band 1 receiver alone weighing 165kg!”

“I think the fact that we’re involved in such an international and dynamic team really valorises the italian industry participation to the project.”

The team has recently conducted the final tests at their facility in Naples, before shipping the indexer to China for assembly on the dish in January.

Instrumentation

The Dish consortium also includes the delivery of some of the instrumentation – the receivers – for the dishes. A group of engineers at the National Research Council (NRC) Canada, are developing the hardware that digitises the signals recorded with each of the five feeds. The University of Bordeaux, France will contribute their expertise enabling the digitisation of high frequency signals.

The receivers prepare the analogue signals from the feeds to a digitised data for transmission over optical fibre. As part of the consortium’s work for its Critical Design Review (CDR), prototype receivers are being developed for the high-priority Bands 1, 2 & 5, covering the frequency ranges of 350 MHz to 1.05 GHz, 950 MHz to 1.76 GHz and 4.6 to 15.3 GHz respectively, thus allowing to cover wavelengths from 2-86 cm.

Band 1: Swedish craftsmanship, Canadian collaboration 

In 2016 the team from Onsala Space Observatory at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, designed and manufactured a first Band 1 feed for the SKA dish.

In June 2016, it was shipped to the Dominion Radio Astronomy Observatory in British Columbia, Canada for site testing on a full-size SKA prototype dish built by the National Research Council of Canada a few years ago. The huge feed horn, with an opening close to 1m in diameter and weighing more than 100kg, was lifted 12m into the air to be fitted on the dish.

Following a programme of different tests over 18 months in Canada and Sweden the team was able to improve the design of the feed to maximise its performance. The new improved feed uses components made in Onsala together with others from the Swedish company Ventana Hackås AB – at almost 63 degrees North! – and ridges made by MegaMETA in Lithuania.

“We’re very proud of the Band 1 feed that we’ve manufactured and hand-assembled in our own workshop at Onsala Space Observatory”, explains Miroslav Pantaleev, Project Manager for the Band 1. “The test campaign in Canada gave us valuable feedback which we’re now integrating into the design of a second receiver to increase its performance.”

A key component in the Band 1 success story are its low-noise amplifiers, developed by the Gothenburg company Low Noise Factory. Normally, amplifiers for radio telescopes have to be cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero. Instead, the amplifiers have been specially designed to maintain sensitivity without using any cooling at all. For the SKA, that translates into potential savings in energy, maintenance and investment.

The upgraded feed will be shipped to South Africa in 2018 to be fitted onto the SKA dish prototype at the South African SKA site.

Band 2: Early success in South Africa

Early in December 2017, a development team from EMSS Antennas in Stellenbosch, South Africa, working on the band 2 receiver and assisted by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory system engineering team successfully concluded the CDR for their sub-deliverable with the dish consortium.

The assembled band 2 feed with the review panel and teams from EMSS and SARAO. Credit: EMSS

The panel included international experts on radio astronomy receivers, including representatives from SKA Organisation, the National Research Centre of Canada, the European Space Agency and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain.

Encouragingly, the results are much better than the required receiver noise temperature, which would result in very good system sensitivity on the optimised optics.

“This is quite a milestone” explains Mark Bowen dish engineer at SKA Organisation and chair of the review panel “It’s the first successful CDR within the dish consortium and actually, it’s the first successful CDR of the SKA pre-production project!”

Band 5: high frequency performance

A later addition to the project was the Band 5 Feed system developed in the UK by Oxford University and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). This feed system will provide SKA with capability to observe from frequencies of 4.8-15.3 GHz. The group are in the design stage and have recently undertaken a major review of the design. Prototyping of critical components is underway to validate their performance.

As a result of the very good performance of the dish’s optics, it’s also been proposed to expand the upper edge of band 5 from 15.3 GHz to 25 GHz and possibly higher. This would allow the SKA to contribute even more to studies of planet-formation and exobiology.

Monitoring & Control: another success

To control the dish system a Team of specialist Telescope Software engineers at the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) are developing the Local Monitor and Control (LMC) system. This will monitor, coordinate and control the Dish subsystems. This requires close interaction with all the teams. The INAF LMC  control system will act a glue to harmonise all the components in the dish to act as one system. This is no simple task when they need to coordinate the activities of 200 engineers in seven countries.

In June 2017, the South African and Italian engineers led by Corrado Trigilio, coordinator of the LMC group for INAF, successfully carried out a communication and operation test between the central control of the Dish, the LMC element and the receiver system controller that will be installed at the focus of the telescope.

The next steps

So what next? 2018 will be an exciting year as the work of the consortium will be nearing completion and the pieces of this international puzzle come together ahead of their Critical Design Review.

A ceremony at the CETC54 factory in China in early February will mark the first assembly of the dish with its main reflector, sub-reflector, back structure and pedestal from China, servomotors from Germany and feed indexer from Italy.

In June 2017 the infrastructure team from SARAO poured the concrete foundation – using 120m3 of concrete – for the first SKA prototype dish at the South African SKA site in the Karoo. Credit: Telalo Lekalake / SARAO

Shortly after, a second dish, currently under production by the same partners and funded by the German Max-Planck Institute, will be shipped to South Africa and assembled at the South African SKA site where in June 2017 teams from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory SARAO poured the concrete foundation on top of which it will stand. For the first time, a full SKA dish prototype will be assembled at the site of the future SKA1-mid telescope with its various components from Dish consortium partners.

“No doubt we will learn very valuable lessons from those site tests”, says Mark Harman. “This will allow us to further refine the design and make any tweaks necessary to ensure optimal performance in the harsh conditions of the Karoo.”

“At that point, we will be confident that we’ve delivered a reliable and high performance dish that meets, and very likely, exceeds the specifications. After that, we’ll be ready to mass produce them in the hundreds!”, he concludes.

About the Dish Consortium

The Dish element of the SKA is probably what most people think of as a radio telescope. The international Consortium is responsible for the design and verification of the antenna structure, optics, feed suites, receivers, and all supporting systems and infrastructure ahead of the production of the 133 SKA-mid dishes in Phase 1 of construction of the SKA. The selected design for the SKA dish is a German / Chinese collaboration between MT Mechatronics and CETC54. The consortium is led by CETC54 in China.

Read more

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes or instruments, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA is to be constructed in two phases: Phase 1 (called SKA1) in South Africa and Australia; Phase 2 (called SKA2) expanding into other African countries, with the component in Australia also being expanded.

Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.

First SKA-Low Prototype Station Completed On Site

Perth, Western Australia, Thursday 24 May – A complete prototype station of antennas for the future SKA-low telescope has been completed and is being tested at the SKA site in Western Australia.

In an important engineering milestone, a full station of 256 low-frequency antennas has been deployed  and is undergoing tests at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia.

The demonstrator, known as the Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS1) is being used to help test and finalise the design of the low frequency antennas for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), known as SKA-low.

The work on AAVS1 is part of a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries.

Nine of the consortia focus on a component of the telescope, each critical to the overall success of the project, while three others focus on developing advanced instrumentation for the telescope.

After four years of intense design work, the nine consortia are having their Critical Design Review or CDR in 2018.

In this final stage, the proposed design must meet the project’s tough engineering requirements to be approved, so that a construction proposal for the telescope can be developed.

It was installed by an international team from Australia, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom over many months, sometimes in harsh conditions.

“This is a significant achievement by the team, they have done a fantastic job. We have been thinking, discussing and designing together for several years. Putting together and testing this verification system has been an amazing experience.” said AAVS1 Project Manager Pieter Benthem. Benthem is based at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), the institute that leads the consortium working on the design of the SKA-low telescope.

The consortium focusing on SKA-low is now working towards its critical design review later this year.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the lessons we’ve learnt from AAVS1 will be fed into the larger design process for SKA-low” said ICRAR Associate Professor Randall Wayth.

“The antennas used for AAVS1 are what we call second generation prototypes. The tests now being conducted on them are helping predict how the fourth generation will behave. It’s all about making sure we get the best possible hardware on site at the end” explains Phil Gibbs, SKA Organisation’s Project Manager for the consortium.

“The next steps will be to complete the tests, interpret the results so they can feed into the proposed design for the SKA low telescope and prepare for the critical design review, which is anticipated to take place later this year” he added.

For the teams that have been involved in the work, seeing a completed prototype on site in the Australian outback is a great achievement after many years of work.

“This is the first time that I’m involved in such a big project, so for me it’s a great experience” said Marco Poloni, an engineer from INAF in Italy who has been part of the installation campaign.

AAVS1 is in the process of being connected to the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), one of the four SKA precursor telescopes, which has been operational since 2013. By combining the data of the demonstrator with the MWA, the engineers will be able to fully characterise its on-sky performance.

Both AAVS1 and MWA have been heavily supported by scientists, engineers and data-intensive astronomy specialists from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia.

Watch the video on AAVS1 produced by ICRAR

From Lab To Outback: The Story Of AAVS1 So Far

18 December 2017, SKA Global Headquarters, Jodrell Bank, UK – It is an understatement to say that designing and building a world-class scientific instrument comes with its challenges. The Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS1) is one of the major milestones in the journey towards delivering the final design for SKA1-low, the Australian arm of the first phase of the SKA telescope, that will eventually consist of 130,000 antennas observing low frequency signals emanating from the cosmos. The team delivering this project recently reported on the successful roll-out of a station made up of 256 antenna prototypes at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), located in Western Australia.

“The journey leading up to the deployment and installation of a full antenna station has been a fantastic experience and a steep learning curve for everyone involved”, said the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) engineer Pieter Benthem, AAVS1 Project Manager. “It’s one thing to design, simulate and test the antennas and systems for AAVS1 inside a computer and a totally different thing to deal with the practicalities and logistical complexities of deploying the array on a remote site, on the other side of the planet.”

Overcoming several technical and logistics issues, the AAVS1 team completed the main station of AAVS1 during their most recent site trip in early November. Previous site trips in August and March showed the dedication of the team.

“Despite being separated from home and family, the team powered on and got a tremendous amount of work done”, added Jader Monari, engineer from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and AAVS1 Italian group leader. “This fruitful international collaboration showcases much more than just getting ready for the Critical Design Review (CDR) in a few months time. Working at the MRO was quite an experience for many of us coming from the other side of the globe, and the harsh conditions we had to cope with made us bond quite rapidly, with a very positive impact on the team’s performance. Every day, back at Wooleen or Boolardy Station [where the team lodged], we were holding what we called “family meetings”, where we would share joys or frustrations of the day, and discuss the next day’s activities in a professional yet very friendly atmosphere.”

Engineers from ASTRON (the Netherlands), ICRAR (Australia), INAF (Italy), Oxford University (UK), and University of Malta in front of antennas part of the Aperture Array Verification System Test Platform. Credit: ICRAR

The AAVS1 project is a key deliverable for the Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) consortium, bringing together a team of experts from Australia, the United Kingdom, Malta, the Netherlands and Italy. LFAA, led by ASTRON, is one of 12 consortia in charge of designing the various elements for the SKA telescope.

”Getting the actual designers to the MRO has been a great opportunity to allow them to assemble, test and deploy their design”, added Pieter Benthem. “Several lessons were learned across the board from deployment to commissioning, including details on local materials to be used and feedback towards the next design iteration; all valuable input that will inform the design process ahead of the CDR and help prepare for SKA1-low.”

“This is really one of those projects where the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts”, commented Philip Gibbs, LFAA Project Manager at the SKA Organisation. “Every single individual has brought a great deal of expertise to the deployment of the full station. To name but a few examples of this truly international team, the design of the AAVS1 antenna prototypes was led by the University of Cambridge in the UK; procurement of fibre optics and circuit board design was done by INAF in Italy; both INAF and ASTRON purchased and produced the digitisers boards, gathering important know-how on different production techniques on a single printed circuit board design; our Maltese colleagues along with a team at Oxford University applied their expertise in the firmware, monitor and control software of the antennas; and of course our Australian colleagues from ICRAR and Curtin University provided all logistical support to bring this prototype to life in the West Australian desert drawing on their extensive expertise for constructing and deploying radio telescopes in remote regions. ICRAR and Curtin engineers also designed the intra-station power and fibre distribution system, without which the AAVS1 antennas would have no power and the signals received would not be able to leave the station. All of this being overseen and managed by ASTRON in the Netherlands—so indeed, a truly global enterprise.”

The AAVS1 test platform is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), 800 km north-east of Perth, Western Australia, is home not only to the future SKA1-low telescope but also to the precursor facilities, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope—a 36-dish instrument— and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) —comprising 2,048 dipole antennas. The MRO is owned and operated by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, which also designed and operates ASKAP. CSIRO’s engineers, responsible for ASKAP operations, have also supported the LFAA team through deployment according to ICRAR’s David Emrich. “CSIRO people are always willing to lend support, tools and in-kind assistance and the engineers, along with the site support staff, have established a really collaborative culture. It makes a difference in this harsh and extremely remote location,” he said.

Left: An aerial view of the core part of CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP). Credit: CSIRO Right: An aerial view showing some of of the 256 “tiles” belonging to the Murchison Widefield Array. Credit: ICRAR

Both of these telescopes have been instrumental in testing and further developing the technologies for the SKA however, the low-frequency MWA telescope provided test and development precedents for AAVS1. Online since mid-2013, MWA receives signals from the early Universe within the bandwidth of 80 to 300 MHz. Through its years of operations and refining of techniques, the MWA has pioneered methods for AAVS1, such as adjusting for the distorting effects of the ionosphere above the Murchison, and also refining the method to reduce the noise inherent in the system. ICRAR also planned the deployment of the LFAA which at the start of pre-construction in 2013 was considered the critical risk to realising SKA1-low. AAVS1 has been informed by the development of the LFAA deployment plan.

The AAVS1 station. Credit: ICRAR

Inside an AAVS1 receiver which collects the signals from the 256 antennas on the station before sending them on to the MRO control building. Credit: ICRAR.

However, deploying the AAVS1 prototype has been one of several challenges faced by the LFAA consortium team. Drawing from a decade of engineering work worldwide in low-frequency radio astronomy, the team has learnt from MWA, LOFAR and others operating in the same radio frequency regime and has developed improved antenna designs for SKA1-low. These designs, known as the SKALA prototype design, are a log periodic design with various different rung lengths which enable sensitivity to a wide range of frequencies —which operate from 50 to 650 MHz. The continuous evolution of the SKALA prototype has led to the proposed SKALA4 design, an evolution of SKALA2 which has been deployed on site as part of the AAVS1 project.

An international panel of experts tasked with evaluating multiple performance and design metrics of various proposed antenna designs, considers the SKALA4 antenna to be the best option for the LFAA Critical Design Review (CDR) in July 2018. A comprehensive report on this design will be presented for the Review in July.

An AAVS1 antenna in the field at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory alongside a schematic showing the design for Low Frequency Aperture Array antennas.

“With the march towards CDR in 2018, I couldn’t be more impressed and proud with the momentum within the LFAA consortium”, said LFAA consortium leader Jan Geralt Bij de Vaate from ASTRON. “As we move forward on both the deployment, debugging and upcoming commissioning of the AAVS1 station, work throughout the rest of the LFAA consortium has been progressing at full speed. So the next few months will see work progressing towards CDR.”

The AAVS1 journey itself has been documented and you can watch the teaser video below, courtesy of ICRAR-Curtin University.

AAVS1 The Story So Far from ICRAR on Vimeo.

Synchronisation System Designs Chosen For SKA Telescopes

SKA Global Headquarters, Jodrell Bank, UK, Wednesday 11 October – On Monday the Board of the SKA’s international Signal and Data Transport (SaDT) consortium selected the synchronisation distribution system designs to be used for both SKA telescopes, endorsing the decision of a panel of leading experts in the field of time synchronisation.

While optical fibres are incredibly stable and suited to transport data, mechanical stresses and thermal changes do affect the fibre, degrading the stability of the transmitted signals over long distances.

The long distances between the SKA antennas means radio waves from the sky reach each antenna at different times. With eventually thousands of antennas spread over continental scales and therefore thousands of kilometres of fibre, one of the most complex technical challenges for the SKA to function properly is to make sure the signals from the antennas are aligned with extreme precision to be successfully combined by the SKA’s supercomputers.

“Given the scale of the SKA, this is an engineering problem that hadn’t really been faced before by any astronomical observatory” said André Van Es, the SaDT Engineering Project Manager supervising the consortium’s work for SKA Organisation (SKAO).

To achieve this level of precision or “coherence” across the array, the SKA requires a synchronisation distribution system that supresses these fibre fluctuations in real time.

“The performance required is for less than 2% coherence loss. Bearing in mind a 1% loss is equivalent to losing two dishes or antenna stations, it’s crucial that we get this right for the telescopes to be effective” explained SKAO timing domain specialist Rodrigo Olguin.

The pulses sent by the synchronisation distribution system travel to each antenna using the optical fibre network also used for transporting astronomical data to the SKA’s central computer. The system then takes into account the mechanical stresses and thermal changes in the fibre and corrects the timing difference to make sure all signals coming from the antennas are digitised synchronously.

An optical fibre-based synchronisation distribution system designed by a team from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth was selected for the SKA-mid dishes in South Africa, and a system designed by Tsinghua University in Beijing for the SKA-low antennas in Australia.

“This decision based on the SKA’s requirements combines both cost-effectiveness and reliability of the designs, resulting in an optimal two-system solution for the telescopes” explained André Van Es.

A Sub-Rack enclosure used to hold 16 of the 197 Transmitter Modules for the SKA-mid phase synchronisation system. One prototype Transmitter Module is shown partly extended from the front of the enclosure, revealing details of the system’s critical fibre-optic components. Credit: ICRAR.

“Our SKA frequency synchronisation system continuously measures changes in the fibre link and applies corrections in real-time with fluctuations of no more than five parts in one-hundred trillion over a 1-second period”, said lead designer, Dr Sascha Schediwy from ICRAR and The University of Western Australia (UWA). “A clock relying on a signal of that stability would only gain or lose a second after 600,000 years.”

Main card and Transmitting card of a module from the frequency dissemination system designed by Tsinghua University for the SKA-low telescope. Credit: Tsinghua University

Dr. Bo Wang of Tsinghua University explains “Our system employs a frequency dissemination and synchronisation method that features phase-noise compensation performed at the client site. One central transmitting module can thus be linked to multiple client sites, and future expansion to additional receiving sites can be realised without disrupting the structure of the central transmitting station.”

The very accurate timing and synchronisation systems will enable the SKA to contribute to many fields from mapping the distribution of hydrogen in the Universe over time to studying pulsars and detecting gravitational waves on a galactic scale, making it complementary to the LIGO & VIRGO gravitational wave observatories.

“The technologies behind these synchronisation systems are also likely to find applications beyond astronomy. Think about currency trading, which requires extreme accuracy in transactions” added André Van Es.

SaDT LOGOThe synchronisation system designs chosen were developed as part of the SaDT Consortium led by Prof. Keith Grainge of the University of Manchester, UK and which includes institutes from eight countries, including the University of Western Australia and Tsinghua University from Beijing, China. SaDT is responsible for the transmission of SKA data and the provision of timing, across two telescope-wide networks. Read more about SaDT’s work: http://www.skatelescope.org/sadt/

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes or instruments, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA is to be constructed in two phases: Phase 1 (called SKA1) in South Africa and Australia; Phase 2 (called SKA2) expanding into other African countries, with the component in Australia also being expanded.

Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2019, with early science observations in the early 2020s.

Learn more about the SKA: http://www.skatelescope.org/

Indian-led Telescope Manager consortium concludes design work on SKA

SKA Global Headquarters, 6 August 2018 – After four and a half years, the international Telescope Manager (TM) consortium has formally concluded its work on the architectural design of a fundamental part of the software for the Square Kilometre Array: the nervous system of the Observatory, which is called the Telescope Manager.

Formed in November 2013, the consortium was tasked with designing the crucial software that will control, monitor and operate the SKA telescopes. TM brought expertise in the field of Monitoring and Control for large-scale, complex systems and design of user interface experience.

Led by India’s National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), the international consortium comprised nine institutions in seven countries.*

TM Consortium Lead Professor Yashwant Gupta from NCRA said “We can all take pride in the fact that we’ve successfully designed the software that will operate the world’s largest radio telescope. I would like to sincerely thank all the members of our international team for their hard work over the past few years that made it possible to achieve this important milestone.”

The TM work was part of a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries. Nine of the consortia focus on a component of the telescope, each critical to the overall success of the project, while three others focus on developing advanced instrumentation for the telescope.

After four years of intense design work, the nine consortia are having their Critical Design Reviews or CDRs. In this final stage, the proposed design must meet the project’s tough engineering requirements to be approved, so that a construction proposal for the telescope can be developed.

Following their successful CDR in April 2018, the TM consortium set about making the final adjustments to their proposed design which they have now completed. While the consortium now formally ceases to exist, the SKA Organisation continues to work with NCRA and the other former consortium members on the System Critical Design Review development and the SKA construction proposal, where their expertise will be required to make sure the TM design works alongside the other elements.

“The work done by the consortium has been outstanding,” said Maurizio Miccolis, TM Project Manager for the SKA Organisation. “We can now take it forward into the next phase of the SKA, which brings us one step closer to construction.”

*Consortium members included the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Council (CSIRO) in Australia, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), TCS Research and Innovation and Persistent Systems in India, Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), Portugal’s ENGAGE SKA Consortium through Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT) & the School of Sciences of Porto University, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), and the UK’s Astronomy Technology Centre funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Find out more about TM’s work, including photos and videos.

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA will be constructed in Australia and South Africa; with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.

Already supported by 12 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions in the design and development of the telescope.

Read more about the SKA’s Critical Design Reviews
Frequently Asked Questions

About NCRA

The National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Pune, is one of the premier astronomy research centres in India. It is also the nodal agency for the Indian participation in the SKA. NCRA is responsible for the construction and operation of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) which is the largest radio telescope in the world at metrewavelengths. Recently the GMRT has gone through a major upgrade which included many technical improvements, thus enabling astronomers to study numerous cutting-edge scientific research problems. GMRT is already serving as a test-bed for carrying out observations with the SKA and hence has been accorded the status of a “SKA Pathfinder”.

Read more about NCRA’s contribution to the TM Critical Design Reviews

  • Gemini LRU
  • Gemini board LRU
  • Gemini POC testing
  • Gemini prototype in production
  • MT Mechatronics team with the dish elevation driver
  • Close-up of low noise amplifier on the band 1 feed
  • Band 1 feed engineers from Onsala Space Observatory
  • Dish prototype in China
  • Feed indexer in Italy
  • Dish moulds being manufactured in China

The Gemini board

Gemini is a computer board containing the newest processor from the company Xilinx Inc., a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). The board is a collaboration between ASTRON in the Netherlands, CSIRO in Australia and AUT in New Zealand, developed for the Central Signal Processor. 288 such boards will be needed for SKA1-low.

Image credit: ASTRON

Cooling 140W UltraScale FPGA on Gemini board for SKA-low

This is what you get if you ask ASTRON mechanical engineers to design a new liquid cooling! Cooling a 140W UltraScale+ Xilinx FPGA on Gemini board for the SKA-low correlator.

Image credit: ASTRON

Multi-pad cooling solution for the Xilinx FPGA

A multi-pad cooling solution for the Xilinx FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) for the Gemini LRU board for the SKA-LOW correlator was designed by Hiddo Hanenburg.
What you see in the picture is a mono-cool block design resting on the Gemini LRU board which has to cool all the major components and the substantial part of the PCB. The mono-block design started at the end of January 2018 and now (the end of February) it has already been 1.5 weeks in production at ASTRON’s Research Instrument-Workshop.
The block was prepared for fitting and testing, and made ready for the CDR in the UK in March.

Image credit: ASTRON Mechanical Group

February 2018: Heating up the Gemini LRU

Gemini LRU

To test the power supplies and the cooling of the Gemini LRU (Line Replaceable Unit) a heater firmware design has been made for the FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). Even given the high power consumption, the maximum temperature of the FPGA was 74°C, well below the maximum recommended temperature of 100°C. In the power supplies at the bottom of the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), all measurements were below 70°C. This shows the development of a fully liquid cooled SKA-Low correlator / beamformer is on the right track!

Image credit: DESP

August 2017: Gemini LRU testing

Gemini board LRU

The Gemini LRU (Line Replaceable Unit) is the successor of Gemini POC (Proof Of Concept). It now has a subrack-based structure, which makes swapping boards easier in the event of a failure. Three optical transceivers will be mounted in the centre, each with 12 transmit and 12 receive fibre channels which can run at 25Gbps each. These result in a total Gemini IO cross connect capability of 900Gbps.

Image credit: ASTRON/CSIRO

May 2017: Gemini Proof of Concept tests

Gemini POC testing

Here we see Gemini POC (Proof Of Concept) tests under way. The first achievement was a flashing LED, which might not sound like much, but shows that all power supplies are working and the FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) can be configured. The board’s optical interfaces were also tested; they have speeds of 25Gbps per transceiver of which 52 are implemented on Gemini resulting in a total throughput of 1.3 Tbps. Power consumption and heat distribution were also tested, as shown in the thermal image in the bottom-right corner. The test proved that the power supplies can handle the required power (almost 100W) to the FPGA.

Image credit: ASTRON/CSIRO

January 2017: Prototype in production

Gemini prototype in production

A shot to the first prototype of the Gemini board in production. The processing board will form part of the SKA-low correlator.

Image credit: ASTRON

Drive system undergoes RFI tests

The drive system for the SKA-MPI prototype dish undergoing RFI verification at Houwteq in South Africa, 31 July 2018. This is an important test to ensure the hardware is RFI compliant before it is allowed on site, and it takes place in an anechoic chamber – an echo-free space. The drive system, which moves the dish so that it can observe different parts of the sky, is the work of MT Mechatronics based in Mainz, Germany.

Credit: SARAO

Pedestal assembly approaches completion

The scale of the structure becomes clear as the pedestal assembly approaches completion, under the watchful eye of the assembly team. When finished, the whole dish structure will stand at over 22m tall.

(Credit: SARAO)

Pedestal structure takes shape

The pedestal that will support the SKA-MPI dish is lifted in to place in South Africa, July 2018.

(Credit: SARAO)

Prototype dish assembly begins

Assembly starts on the SKA-MPI dish prototype in South Africa, with the back-up structure taking shape, July 2018. Teams from CETC54, MT Mechatronics and South African Radio Astronomy Observatory are involved in the assembly. This prototype, funded by the Max Planck Society, is one of two such dishes; the other was unveiled in China in February, the first time that an SKA dish had been assembled.

(Credit: SARAO)

SKA prototype dish arrives on site

An SKA prototype dish arrives on site for the first time in South Africa’s Karoo region, July 2018. The dish, known as SKA-MPI, was funded by the German Max Planck Society, and co-designed by Germany’s MT Mechatronics and CETC54 in China. Here we see the antenna panels in their shipping crates after making the journey from the Chinese production facility by boat.

(Credit: SARAO)

Moving the dish

MT Mechatronics team with the dish elevation driver

This hefty piece of hardware is the elevation drive system, which drives the main reflector and tips the antenna forwards and back, allowing it to look at different parts of the sky. The dish can also rotate, and the whole system will operate to extraordinary levels of accuracy. In the photo are members of the German design team from MT Mechatronics (MTM).

Band 1's low noise amplifier

Close-up of low noise amplifier on the band 1 feed

A close-up view of the low noise amplifier – in the centre of the image – on the Band 1 receiver. Developed by Swedish company Low Noise Factory, the amplifiers are specially designed for optimal performance without the need for cooling the feed.

(Credit: Chalmers / Johan Bodell)

Catching waves: the Band 1 feed

Band 1 feed engineers from Onsala Space Observatory

Development of the advanced prototype of the SKA’s Band 1 feed was led by Sweden’s Onsala Space Observatory. A metre across and weighing 180 kg, it allows the dish to measure radio waves with a frequency between 0.35 and 1.05 GHz (wavelength 30-85 cm).

In the photo, engineers from the Onsala team alongside the Band 1 feed. From left: Lars Wennerbäck, Miroslav Pantaleev, Jan Karaskuru, Per Björklund, Christer Hermansson, Leif Helldner, Bo Wästberg, Jonas Flygare, Lars Pettersson, Ronny Wingdén, Magnus Dahlgren and Ulf Kylenfall.

(Credit: Chalmers / Johan Bodell)

First SKA prototype dish

Dish prototype in China

The first fully assembled SKA dish prototype – SKA-P – was unveiled at the CETC54 assembly workshop in Shijiazhuang, China, in February 2018. The state-of-the-art 15-metre diameter dish brings together components from China, Germany, and Italy. CETC54 has been leading the design and production of the prototype, in particular the production of its highly precise main reflector, sub-reflector, backup structure, and pedestal.

Credit: SKA Organisation

Feed indexer testing in Italy

Feed indexer in Italy

Here we see the dish’s feed indexer under test at Società Aerospaziale Mediterranea (SAM) in Italy. Its role is to prioritise the different feeds at the focus of the antenna, which will enable the telescope to look at different frequencies.

Manufacturing the moulds and panels

Dish moulds being manufactured in China

Pictured here are the moulds used to manufacture the 66 panels of the main reflector for the 18m x 15m SKA dish prototype, at the CETC54 factory in Shijiazhuang, China. Each panel has a unique shape to create the exact curvature it needs for its position on the reflector. At the front, a panel’s backup structure can be seen as the panel is fitted on to the mould.

Credit: W. Garnier / SKA Organisation

  • Prof. Carole Mundell
  • Prof. Yogesh Wadadekar

Prof. Carole Mundell

Astronomer, University of Bath; member of the SKA’s Science & Engineering Advisory Committee

SaDT really is at the heart of the SKA design and connects all of the elements together. The technology is ground-breaking and needs to deliver data to incredible precision across networks of radio antennas that will be connected over vast terrains in South Africa and Australia. Every part of must be synchronised very accurately, vast quantities of science and calibration data must be passed accurately around the network and time must be measured, recorded and transmitted to accuracies of a tiny fraction of a second continuously, reliably and sustainably over many years. The design and attention to detail is fundamental for the cosmic science that we’ll be able to do with the SKA, right down to measuring the nature of space-time itself.

Image credit: University of Bath

Prof. Yogesh Wadadekar

Yogesh Wadadekar quote pic

Astronomer, National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Pune, India

The Telescope Manager forms the nervous system of the SKA telescope; its function is to orchestrate all the individual telescope subsystems to work together to produce the highest quality astronomical observations possible. Without it, the telescope would be unable to operate. This complex functionality requires the Telescope Manager to interface with almost all the other subsystems of the telescope and make rapid and autonomous decisions keeping in mind all aspects – safety, asset protection and maximisation of telescope uptime and productivity.
Thousands of monitoring inputs have to be gathered in real time and processed immediately for taking well-informed decisions on telescope operations. The Telescope Manager is also responsible for developing sophisticated user interfaces for various stakeholders such as astronomers, operators and maintenance engineers so that any problems with telescope operation can be rapidly diagnosed and fixed. The archive of engineering metadata that Telescope Manager will gather over time will be crucial to understand the long-term trends in telescope operations.
Photo credit: Sushruti Santhanam

  • Flow measurement for Gemini-LRU board
  • Manufacturing a radio telescope - The first SKA prototype dish
  • The Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS1)
  • First impression from the SaDT review
  • First impressions from the Telescope Manager review

Flow measurement for Gemini-LRU board

Manufacturing a radio telescope - The first SKA prototype dish

The 54th Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54) has completed the structural assembly of the first SKA dish, bringing together components from China, Germany, and Italy in an international effort.

Across 18 time zones, extensive work has taken place to reach this point as the various teams around the world work towards building a fully functional SKA dish prototype.

The dish was unveiled on Tuesday 6 February 2018 at a ceremony in Shijiazhuang, China.

Prof. Phil Diamond, Director-General of the SKA Organisation, reflects on the SKA Project so far and on the international effort to reach this milestone.

The Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS1)

The Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS1) is being used to help test and finalise the design of the low frequency antennas for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). It was installed by an international team from Australia, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom over many months, sometimes in harsh conditions.

AAVS1 has been heavily supported by scientists, engineers and data-intensive astronomy specialists from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia.

First impression from the SaDT review

First impressions gathered after the Critical Design Review for the Signal and Data Transport at the SKA’s Global Headquarters in the UK.

Signal and data transport is the backbone of the SKA telescope. The consortium is responsible for the design of three data transport networks. These include the Digital Data Backhaul (DDBH) that transports signals from the radio telescopes to the Central Signal Processor (CSP), and data products from the CSP to the Science Data Processor (SDP) and from the SDP to the regional SKA Data Centres. SaDT’s work also includes the design of clocks and a custom-made frequency distribution system. The consortium is led by the University of Manchester in the UK and includes institutes from eight different countries, including Australia, China, India, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK.

First impressions from the Telescope Manager review

First impressions gathered after the Critical Design Review for the Telescope Manager at the SKA’s Global Headquarters in the UK.

The Telescope Manager is the SKA’s nervous system, the software that allows all the pieces to connect together, to operate the telescope, send commands and convey all the data that needs to go through processing. The consortium is led by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics in Pune, India and includes institutes from Australia, Canada, India, Italy, Portugal, South Africa and the UK.

Infrastructure Australia Critical Design Review group photo

L-R: Tracy Cheetham (SARAO), Luca Stringhetti (SKAO), Federico Di Vruno (SKAO), Gerhard Swart (SKAO), Martin Austin (SKAO), Mark Bendotti (RLB), James Massoud (Aurecon), John Kerr (SKAO), Rebecca Wheadon (Aurecon), Antony Schinckel (CSIRO), Gary Davis (SKAO), Joe McMullin (SKAO), Simon Craig (DKIST), Matt Burley (Aurecon), Shandip Abeywickrema (Aurecon), Bryan Little (Horcon), Naomi McClure-Griffiths (ANU)

Infrastructure South Africa Critical Design Review group photo

Infrastructure South Africa CDR group photo

Back row (standing L-R): René Oosthuizen (SARAO), Charl Strecker (Aurecon), Les Thompson (HHO), Craig Smith (SARAO), Nathaneal Morgan (SARAO), Stiaan Myburgh (Aurecon), Alice Pienaar-Marais (SARAO), Jana Jooste (Aurecon), Tracy Cheetham (SARAO), Johan Hugo (Aurecon), John Kerr (SKAO), Antony Schinckel (CSIRO), Martin Austin (SKAO) Gerhard Swart (SKAO), Simon Craig (DKIST), Gary Davis (SKAO)
Front row (kneeling L-R): Karel Buitendag (SARAO), Angelo Syce (SARAO), Gideon Wiid (SARAO), Hendrik Hurter (SARAO), Federico Di Vruno (SKAO), Bryan Little (Horcon)

Science Data Processor pre-CDR group photo

SDP pre-CDR group photo

Back row (standing, L - R): Phil Diamond (SKAO), Mary Popeck (SEI), Mark Ashdown (Cambridge), Paul Alexander (Cambridge) Robert Laing (SKAO), Marco Bartolini (SKAO), Ben Mort (Oxford), Miles Deegan (SKAO), Jeremy Coles (Cambridge), André Offringa (ASTRON), Norbert Eicker (Jülich), Juande Santander Vela (SKAO), Bernd Mohr (Jülich), Rosie Bolton (SKAO), Verity Allan (Cambridge), Ferdl Graser (Space Advisory), John Taylor (StackHPC), Antonio Chrysostomou (SKAO)
Front row (kneeling, L - R): Peter Wortmann (Cambridge), Maurizio Miccolis (SKAO), Anna Bonaldi (SKAO), Joe McMullin (SKAO), Nick Rees (SKAO), John Klein (SEI)

Signal and Data Transport Critical Design Review group photo

Back row from left to right: Bruce Wallace (SARAO), Mark Tearle (UMAN), Claire Brown (Aeon), Rob Gabrielczyk (Aeon), Lorenzo Pivetta (SKAO), Paul Boven (JIVE), Pierre Waller (ESA), Cristina Garcia Miro (SKAO), Nick Rees (SKAO), Samantha Lloyd (UMAN), Corrie Taljaard (SKAO), Robert Laing (SKAO), John Davis (NPL), Richard Oberland (UMAN), Shaun Amy (CSIRO), Mike Pearson (UMAN), Gie Han Tan (ESO)
Front row from left to right: Bill Shillue (NRAO), Bassem Alachkar (UMAN), Michelle Hussey (UMAN), Rodrigo Olguin (SKAO), André van Es (SKAO), Jill Hammond (UMAN), Keith Grainge (UMAN), Carole Mundell (SEAC/Univ of Bath), Richard Hughes Jones (GEANT), Ralph Braddock (UMAN)

Telescope Manager Critical Design Review group photo

Back row: Gerhard Swart (SKAO), Lorenzo Pivetta (SKAO), Maria Grazia Labate (SKAO), Jyotin Ranpura (NCRA), Ray Brederode (SARAO), Phil Diamond (SKAO), Riccardo Smareglia (INAF), Mauro Dolci (INAF), Gerhard Le Roux (SARAO), Robert Laing (SKAO), Brian Glendenning (NRAO), Jeff Wagg (SKAO), Joe McMullin (SKAO), Domingos Barbosa (IT), Yashwant Gupta (NCRA)
Middle row: Bruno Morgado (IT), Valentina Alberti (INAF), Snehal Nakave (TCS), Subhroyoti Chaudhuri (TCS), Stewart Williams (STFC), Jeff Kern (NRAO), Matteo Di Carlo (INAF), Paul Swart (SARAO), Miles Deegan (SKAO), Rosie Bolton (SKAO), Cristina Garcia Miro (SKAO)
Front row: Mark Nicol (STFC), Mary Popeck (SEI), John Klein (SEI), Marco Bartolini (SKAO), Tim Jenness (LSST), Nick Rees (SKAO), Antonio Chrysostomou (SKAO), Juande Santander Vela (SKAO), Nuno Pedro Silva (Critical Software), Sonja Vrcic (NRC), Maurizio Miccolis (SKAO), Vinod Sathe (NCRA), Alan Bridger (STFC)

  • Rodrigo Olguin (SKAO)
  • Yashwant Gupta (NCRA)
  • Dr. Alan Bridger (STFC)
  • Snehal Valame (Persistent Systems)

Rodrigo Olguin (SKAO)

Frequency and Timing Domain Specialist and System Engineer for SaDT.

Central to the SKA project are the joint challenges of transporting huge quantities of data over vast distances and providing precise synchronisation and timing between the telescope’s different elements. The responsibility for both falls to the Signal and Data Transport (SaDT) consortium, a group of institutions spread across four continents.

Following its Critical Design Review (CDR) in May 2018, we caught up with SKA Frequency and Timing Domain Specialist and SaDT System Engineer Rodrigo Olguin, who is based at SKA Headquarters in the UK, to find out more about his role in this major milestone in the design process.

You were a panel member for the SaDT Critical Design Review, alongside experts from ALMA, NRAO, CERN, ESO and ESA. What did that role involve?

My role was to spot the gaps in the design and find if it matched our system requirements. I was assigned to scrutinise the Synchronisation and Timing and the Systems Engineering design documentation, and report observations about the design. It could range from mistakes in the documents to disagreements with the proposed design. Based on that assessment and the responses that the SaDT consortium members gave to these observations, we as panel concluded if the detailed design was complete, or some more work was needed.

The SaDT design is an extensive and rigorous set of detailed documentation, where you can find everything from the system architecture to the design of racks. SaDT is a complex  system, professionally developed by the consortium; being involved in reviewing this design was a big responsibility and made me very proud, it was a unique opportunity for me.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in getting to this point in the project?

To make a large-scale science facility like the SKA the worlds of both engineering and academia are needed. Sometimes these two worlds don’t converge in the way that solves a design problem, and that can give the process some instability. If you add to this the human element, where sometimes we are not having a good day, then we could deviate and end up with the wrong design solution. The challenge has been to help to keep everyone on track, which is not easy because you need to know when to be flexible, when to be firm and when I am the one who is going off course.

You previously worked at ALMA in Chile, itself a huge international project – how does the SKA compare in terms of collaboration across the consortium, and its international nature?

ALMA was a successful international cooperation that built the largest radio telescope in the world, but I perceived the design groups to be mostly national. In the SKA, every consortium is already of a multinational nature and it’s possible to see in the working groups that we are operating in a global environment, trying to build the largest science facility in the world.

What will be the next steps for the SaDT consortium? 

Now that the review is over, we need to baseline the SaDT design and import it into the broader SKA design. The SaDT as a consortium will cease to exist, but we’ll keep working with some members for the forthcoming bridging phase, and will continue to count on their valuable contributions and knowledge.

Find out more about Rodrigo’s background and what led to him becoming an engineer in our Team SKA profile.

Yashwant Gupta (NCRA)

Each of the SKA’s international consortia has a lead institution, responsible for coordinating the work of the wider team. Within Telescope Manager (TM) that role has been occupied by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) based in Pune, India, leading an international team of 9 institutions in 7 countries. NCRA is part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

In July 2018, TM became the first consortium to formally conclude its design work on the SKA, marking the end of four and a half years of collaboration. We spoke to NCRA Director and TM Consortium Lead Prof. Yashwant Gupta to find out more about the consortium’s work.

What does your role as consortium lead for TM involve?

My role has been to coordinate and guide the activities of the consortium members to achieve the goals we had set out to achieve, to help smooth out difficult technical and managerial situations, and finally to liaise with the SKA Office and represent the TM consortium in the appropriate meetings.

Why is TM such a crucial part of the SKA, particularly for you as an astrophysicist?

TM is like the central nervous system of the entire SKA Observatory. Without it working properly and to the specifications, it would be difficult to run the complex distributed machinery of the SKA as a coordinated observatory and get the desired scientific results.

Any astrophysicist will interact primarily with TM, from the point of putting in a proposal, to the point of getting the final data. That makes TM an extremely crucial part for any astrophysicist wanting to use the SKA.

You are also the Dean of India’s Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), an SKA pathfinder – how does your experience of that project compare to working on the SKA?

The experience has been quite different. GMRT does not have the same level of international collaboration as the SKA, so most of the people I work with at GMRT are old colleagues – we have worked together for many years, understand each other quite well, and have similar ways of thinking and doing things. Our approach to solving problems and moving forward have been quite different from the approach in the SKA.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the TM consortium?

Perhaps the biggest challenge has been coordinating and balancing the needs and interests of the TM members coming from different organisations and countries, each with their own culture and background, their own way of looking at and doing things, and their own expectations and aspirations.

That said, the wider expertise and experience from the different partners has certainly proved very positive.  This often allowed us to take better technical decisions in the design process of TM, and has resulted in a much better design. It has also helped build valuable bonds between different institutions and countries, which should stand us in good stead for the construction phase of SKA.

You can learn more about GMRT and NCRA by visiting their website.

Dr. Alan Bridger (STFC)

Alan Bridger

Lead for SKA Observation Management Design, TM; Head of Software Engineering, UK Astronomy Technology Centre

Controlling and monitoring the SKA and managing its observations are all jobs for the Telescope Manager (TM), which has been designed by an international consortium spanning five continents. In the UK, the Edinburgh-based Astronomy Technology Centre, part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), has been contributing its know-how to the consortium.

Dr. Alan Bridger is at the helm of the software engineering group there, and we spoke to him to learn more about his work on the SKA.

What has been your role within the Telescope Manager consortium?

I’ve led the team that designed the Observation Management Software, which is STFC’s major contribution to the consortium. I also led the overall Telescope Manager Software Architecture team. In that role, I was the technical lead for the TM team at the CDR in April, presenting the overall architecture at the start of the review and then leading the responses to the reviewers’ questions and the “walk-through” scenarios that the panel had prepared to test the architecture.

Why is the Observation Management software so important within the telescope?

Observation Management is really what makes the science work in the SKA system – it’s the process of helping observatory staff and the astronomy community to use the telescopes. This involves providing them with the software necessary to prepare and submit valid science proposals to use the SKA, and also to create the complex technical setups required to take the data needed to meet their science goals.

Further software helps observatory staff to review the proposals and plan the observations, and also allows users to follow the progress of each observation. Overall, Observation Management is the software suite that provides the main science interfaces to the SKA Observatory and its telescopes, with the key aims of making the SKA easy to use, optimising the science and the observatory efficiency.

What expertise did the UK Astronomy Technology Centre bring to the table?

UK ATC brought a lot of experience of working in similar systems, most recently for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile, which is another big radio interferometer. Before that we worked on similar systems for UKIRT [UK Infrared Telescope] based in Hawaii.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced working on the SKA?

SKA is long wavelength astronomy, and that creates some different challenges compared to ALMA, which is millimetre wavelength. The wavelengths used by the SKA are very sensitive to radio frequency interference – even in remote locations interference still remains, in particular from over-flying aircraft and satellites. The Observation Management software must plan sensitive observations around known flights, and in some cases must be reactive to unknown flights. For some types of interference – where there is a particular signal at a given wavelength – observations must be designed to avoid this wavelength where possible. The software will provide tools to assist in this.

Having worked at ALMA and UKIRT, how does the SKA compare in terms of international collaboration?

ALMA was a worldwide project so some challenges, like organising tele-conferences across a wide set of time zones, are essentially the same. However, ALMA was built by a collaboration of three strong partners, ESO, the NRAO and the NAOJ, which made the variations in both social and institutional cultures comparatively small.

The SKA currently has 12 members, creating more communication axes, more institutional cultures, and, with the involvement of India, China, South Africa and Australia some significantly different social cultures. There is also more direct industry involvement in the software design than at ALMA.  These differences need accommodation, but also of course bring many positives in terms of different ideas and approaches. It’s been very rewarding.

Snehal Valame (Persistent Systems)

Engineering Lead, Proposal Handling System, TM; Engineering Lead, Persistent Systems.

In the TM consortium, Pune-based global IT services company Persistent Systems has been contributing to the SKA design work through its partnership with Indian consortium leaders NCRA.

Software engineer Snehal Valame is part of the Persistent Systems team, and we asked her to explain a little more about her work and the organisation’s involvement in the SKA.

What is your role in the SKA’s TM consortium?

I’m a part of the SKA Observation Management Team, where I’m leading the design of the Proposal Handling System, as well as making contributions to other areas. The Proposal Handling Tool (PHT) is part of the SKA Observatory Science Operations – it provides tools for the creation and submission of new proposals and supports the proposal review process.

My role means I interact with other members of the team in the UK and Italy, as well as members of the wider TM consortium from South Africa, India and Portugal. It has been a great learning experience so far and I have been enjoying working with them.

What has Persistent Systems been focusing on specifically within TM?

We are an industrial partner with the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) for the SKA design and pre-construction phase. The team is involved in the design phase for the two consortia: Telescope Manager and Signal and Data Transport, along with leading and managing the TM prototyping activities.

TM spans five continents – what has it been like working within such a dispersed international consortium?

The TM consortium has brought together people from different countries and cultures to work for a common goal – SKA. It has provided a wonderful platform for networking among elite scientists and techies. TM has set excellent standards for effective documentation, knowledge sharing and communication which has helped with harmonization among the diverse teams.

What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in your work with the consortium?

Being from a software development background and accustomed to coding most of the time, it was challenging for me to keep up with the extensive design documentation processes in the preliminary and Critical Design Review period, particularly in a geographically distributed consortium.

However, SKA had best practices in place for software architecture, design documentation and stakeholder collaborations which was a new and interesting learning experience for me. I realised the power of team work in a long term, global project like SKA. Software architecture is the conceptual glue that holds every phase of the project together for its many stakeholders. Along with the guidance & support of my team, I was able to contribute to all the deliverables effectively.

 

  • Machine builder delivers drives for space exploration

Machine builder delivers drives for space exploration

In the presence of Saxony-Anhalt’s state secretary Dr. Jürgen Ude, INKOMA Maschinenbau GmbH hands over an elevation drive for the worldwide largest radio telescope currently under construction.

In the presence of state secretary Dr. Jürgen Ude, INKOMA Maschinenbau GmbH in Osterweddingen handed over an elevation drive for the worldwide largest radio telescope currently under construction, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in February. This occurred after a successful acceptance for the installation in South Africa. Based on an order by the specialist for telescopes and antenna, MT Mechatronics GmbH, INKOMA developed and produced the drive.

“We congratulate the entire INKOMA team. This drive is a prime example of technical engineering top performances in Saxony-Anhalt. It shows what commerce and science can jointly achieve”, said state secretary Dr. Jürgen Ude. At the same time, he welcomed the growth plans of the worldwide active innovation leader in Osterweddingen and promised the company, which is supported by the Investment and Marketing Corporation of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt (IMG), the support of the state. Ude: “We are glad that we have such an innovative and attractive employer here and are continuing to support the expansion plans of INKOMA GmbH.”

Manfred Obermeier, CEO of INKOMA AG, emphasized the tremendous technical requirements for this project: “The antenna consists mainly of the parabolic mirror, the drives for the horizontal motion (azimuth) and the vertical motion (elevation), the supporting structure and the electronic devices. Based on the technical requirements for this observation system, INKOMA Maschinenbau GmbH developed the core of the system, a completely new servo-electrical direct spindle lift drive (DSH) for the elevation motion of the parabolic mirror. This is a quantum leap with respect to precision.” Despite its total length of approx. 6,500 mm and a weight of approx. 3 t, the DSH drive represents a compact drive system with a high-power density. Obermeier: “Such master pieces can only be created with people who are qualified, committed, open to technical novelties and always looking out for the most economical solution. That is why I am convinced that the Osterweddingen location has still a lot of potential and that we can grow here dynamically.”

The parabolic antennae now to be installed in South Africa, with a wing-span of 15 meters, are the result of an international cooperation under the leadership of the medium-size company MT Mechatronics. The first SKA prototype was presented during a large ceremonial event on February 6, 2018.

A second prototype, financed by Max Planck Gesellschaft, is currently under construction and will be transported in early April 2018 to the final location in the South African Karoo desert.

First scientific results are expected in South Africa starting in 2020 after a test phase of the drive and the prototype antenna.

Background of the DSH drive: The core of the drive without gear is an integrated spindle drive, which is actuated free from play by a torque motor, which a.o. guarantees the lowest mechanical losses. The lift speed of the DSH drive is continuously adjustable within a range of 0 to 62 mm/s. The maximum spindle lift motion is slightly more than 3,600 mm.

Traction and pressure forces of more than 130 kN act on the spindle in drive mode and up to 300 kN, which are generated by the own loads and the wind loads of the parabolic mirror, when at a standstill. The forces are assumed by adequately balanced axial bearings and are transferred through the cardanic drive bearing into the mounting bracket. An integrated measuring system permits highly precise synchronized speed and positioning accuracies, which means that pivoting angles with an accuracy of one thousandth degree can be realized at the parabolic mirror.

Original article: https://www.invest-in-saxony-anhalt.com/inkoma-elevation-drive

  • Collaborating across time zones
  • From ASTRON to Australia
  • Taking delivery of the FPGAs
  • Celebrating team expertise
  • Liquid cooling flow test
  • Introducing the Gemini Board for SKA to the Dutch science minister
  • Mounted Gemini Board with liquid cooling
  • Heat signature of the Gemini board for SKA
  • Testing water blocks for the SKA
  • Engineers achieve LED flash for Gemini LRU
  • Power consumption and heat distribution testing
  • Gemini board prototype takes shape
  • The ASTRON-CSIRO collaboration begins
  • INKOMA hands over an elevation drive for the SKA
  • The view from SKA HQ
  • SKA Australia puts the TM challenge into perspective
  • UK ATC Software Engineer Mark Nicol explains TM's role
  • CSIRO congratulates fellow consortium members
  • NCRA Director Yashwant Gupta on TM's successful close
  • Industry partners mark conclusion of TM work
  • Times of India highlights TM's work on SKA
  • TM critical design review summary (refresh to load)

Collaborating across time zones

From ASTRON to Australia

Taking delivery of the FPGAs

Celebrating team expertise

Liquid cooling flow test

Introducing the Gemini Board for SKA to the Dutch science minister

Mounted Gemini Board with liquid cooling

Heat signature of the Gemini board for SKA

Testing water blocks for the SKA

Engineers achieve LED flash for Gemini LRU

Power consumption and heat distribution testing

Gemini board prototype takes shape

The ASTRON-CSIRO collaboration begins

INKOMA hands over an elevation drive for the SKA

The view from SKA HQ

SKA Australia puts the TM challenge into perspective

UK ATC Software Engineer Mark Nicol explains TM's role

CSIRO congratulates fellow consortium members

NCRA Director Yashwant Gupta on TM's successful close

Industry partners mark conclusion of TM work

Times of India highlights TM's work on SKA

TM critical design review summary (refresh to load)

SKA Design

The SKA design is a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries all feeding in to making the SKA a truly exceptional instrument!

The consortia are responsible for working out the look and functionality of the different elements of the SKA, and ensuring that they will all work together. With a telescope of this nature, located on two different continents and generating unprecedented amounts of data, this is a formidable challenge.

The 12 consortia are made up of research institutions and industry partners which are spread across the globe, with each one having a designated lead institution that coordinates the work. They operate in conjunction with a specialist project manager based at SKA Headquarters in the UK.

Each consortium has been tasked with designing a particular element of the SKA – from the very visible parts like the dishes or the infrastructure at each site, to the essential software and networking that will allow the SKA’s arrays to act as one enormous telescope. In the final design, the different elements will come together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

An essential part of each consortium’s role is to ensure that their design ultimately enables the SKA to achieve its science goals. This means scientists and engineers have worked closely together to ensure that the final design meets the science community’s requirements. To that end, the SKA formed the Science Working Groups (SWGs) to feed in to the process.

Since the consortia were first formed in 2013, the design of the SKA has evolved in response to available funding and to take account of scientific advances. In December 2014, the process reached its first milestone, with the start of the Preliminary Design Reviews (PDRs). Each consortium presented its detailed proposals for assessment by an expert panel from the SKA and external organisations, and the results were fed back in to the ongoing design work.

There followed three years of effort by the international consortia to arrive at the Critical Design Reviews (CDR), which began in 2018. This is one of the last and most pivotal stages before construction can begin, where the design documentation for each part of the SKA is analysed in the finest detail, and determinations are made about the readiness of the consortia. Any actions recommended by the review panel must then be completed before the designs can be formally adopted. Once all the consortia have successfully reached this stage, the SKA’s design will be complete!

About the SKA's design

The SKA Design is a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries. Each consortium is international in nature, representing some of the best companies and institutes in the world.

Nine of the consortia focus on a component of the telescope, each critical to the overall success of the project, while three others focus on developing advanced instrumentation for the telescope. After four years of intense design work, the nine consortia are having their Critical Design Reviews or CDRs in 2018.

In this final stage, the proposed design must meet the project’s tough engineering requirements to be approved, so that a construction proposal for the telescope can be developed.

Browse through to discover their stories of success, the profiles of key people, as well as images and videos celebrating the engineering work behind the SKA!

Get in touch:

Are you involved in the SKA’s design?
Would you like to contribute a story, a profile, or even just a photo?
Get in touch with us by writing to skao-outreach@skatelescope.org explaining your role to be featured on the webpage.

Our evolving website

This website will evolve throughout the CDRs, growing in complexity and unlocking new functionalities and visual effects just as the SKA grows closer to reality with each milestone.