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“Super scope” takes shape in the Outback

  • Network of 36 radio astronomy dishes called ASKAP
  • Being built in a remote corner of Western Australia
  • Pathfinder for the international Square Kilometre Array telescope

CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (or ASKAP) project continues to progress to schedule, with five new antennae constructed at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) during the months of September and October, 2010.

The five new antennae bring the total number of ASKAP antennae now standing at the MRO site to six, with the first ASKAP antenna successfully built and tested earlier in the year.

All 36 ASKAP antennae are being constructed at the MRO by their manufacturer—the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (known as CETC54), with CSIRO’s ASKAP team and local contractors assisting.

The antennae are built and tested in China by CETC54. The antenna sections then disassembled, shipped to Australia and then reassembled on site.

ASKAP antenna being erected

ASKAP antennae being erected at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia.

Ant Schinckel, CSIRO ASKAP Project Director, is particularly pleased with recent antenna activity, highlighting the significant success of reflector accuracy that the CETC54 team has been able to achieve upon re-assembly of the shipped antenna.

He notes, “a surface accuracy of <0.6 mm has been achieved with no site adjustments necessary to the panel alignments which is a tremendous result—it means that antennae built in the factory can be rebuilt on site quickly and reliably.”

These first six ASKAP antennae will form BETA (the Boolardy Engineering Test Array) once they are kitted out with PAFs (Phased Array Feeds), receivers and digital backends. BETA is scheduled to be completed in the second quarter of 2011.

By the end of 2011, all 36 antennae should be built, with the full ASKAP system expected to be completed by 2013.

When operational in 2013, ASKAP will be one of the world’s best radio telescope systems. In fact, for many types of astronomy, it will be the best radio telescope. It will have electronic “fish eye” technology that enables it to see huge areas of the sky at once, which means that it will be able to conduct whole-sky surveys with impressive speed. This efficiency means astronomers will be able to achieve in a matter of months or years what would have taken decades to do before.

The Head of Astrophysics for CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, 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.

Adapted from information issued by CSIRO. Images courtesy CSIRO / Ross Forsyth (CSIRO).

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