CSIRO “hot rods” old telescope
CSIRO has helped transform the University of Sydney’s radio telescope into a world-class instrument, and along the way has learned lessons for its own ASKAP (Australian SKA Pathfinder) telescope.
Both telescopes will help demonstrate Australia’s technological expertise in its bid to host the world’s largest and most advanced radio telescope – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
The University of Sydney runs what was the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (MOST) near Canberra. It contracted CSIRO to help develop signal-processing systems – a filterbank and correlator – to dramatically boost the telescope’s performance.
The upgrade has made the telescope more flexible, three times more sensitive, with ten times more bandwidth [up from 3 MHz to 30 MHz], and able to make better-quality images of objects in space.
“This project has given our telescope a whole new capability,” says Professor Anne Green of the University of Sydney, who led the process.
“It looks the same, but under the bonnet it’s been born again.”
And the “new” telescope has a new name: SKAMP (the Square Kilometre Array Molonglo Prototype).
The formal handover of the new signal-processing systems recently took place at the University of Sydney.
The knowledge CSIRO has gained during the course of this project has been applied to the design of the digital systems for its own ASKAP telescope, which is now under construction in Western Australia. Much of the SKAMP contract was carried out by the ASKAP Digital Systems team.
“What we’ve learned over several years will now allow us to dramatically shorten our design cycle for ASKAP’s digital systems, as well as potentially feed into future development work that will be required for the SKA,” says CSIRO SKA Director, Dr Brian Boyle.
Much of the funding for the SKAMP project was provided by the Commonwealth Government under the second round of the Major National Research Facilities program. The Australian Research Council has also contributed substantial funding.
In a synergy with the SKAMP project, CSIRO has built a similar correlator for the international Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) consortium, which is building a low-frequency radio telescope at the same site as the ASKAP telescope (the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia). MWA too will demonstrate technology for the SKA project.