CSIRO’s astronomy Super Science

CSIRO's prototype phased array feed in position on an antenna for testing.

CSIRO's prototype phased array feed in position on an antenna for testing.

CSIRO has been awarded three of the Australian Research Council’s new Super Science Fellowships, worth a total of $835,000 over three years, to develop technology for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.

The CSIRO winners were among 100 Fellows announced last week by the Minister for Science, Senator Kim Carr, at the headquarters of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) in Marsfield, Sydney.

The Acting Chief of CASS, Dr Lewis Ball, said the CSIRO Fellows will work to refine a device CSIRO has pioneered for the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope it is now building in Western Australia—an innovative radio camera (or “phased array feed”) that sits at the focal centre of each ASKAP dish to receive incoming cosmic radio waves.

“These fellowships will help ensure Australia’s readiness for the SKA, boosting essential research and development at the interface between engineering and astronomy within CSIRO and in University groups in Australia and around the world,” Dr Ball said.

The SKA is a $2.5 billion radio telescope now being developed by 19 countries to serve the global community.

Australia and New Zealand have been shortlisted by the international science community as one of two potential locations for the SKA. Southern Africa is the other location.

ASKAP Project Leader, Dr Dave DeBoer

ASKAP Project Leader, Dr Dave DeBoer, with a receiver for CSIRO's prototype phased array feed.

New technology put to the test

The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is a next-generation radio telescope that is on the strategic pathway towards the staged development and deployment of the SKA.

The first of ASKAP’s 36 antennas has been erected at the proposed Australian site for the centre of the SKA—the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory inland from Geraldton in WA. The antenna received its first radio signals in February.

The Head of Astrophysics for CASS, Dr Robert Braun, said ASKAP will carry out a series of ambitious surveys that will fundamentally change our view of the Universe.

“Our new ‘radio-camera’ technology makes this possible by making the useful image field of each antenna a hundred times larger,” Dr Braun said.

“We will continue refining it both for ASKAP and for future use in the SKA—for instance, by improving how it captures dynamic range in an image.”

The ‘radio-camera’ was developed by a team that included Dr John O’Sullivan, winner of the 2009 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his work on wireless technologies.

The Super Science Fellowships are designed to give early-career researchers the opportunity to work in areas of national significance.

Space Science and Astronomy is one of the three areas targeted by the Australian Research Council for the first round of Fellowships, the other two being marine and climate science, and future industries—biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Adapted from information issued by CSIRO. Images by Chris Walsh and David McClenaghan, CSIRO.

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