SKA can start construction of mega telescopes

The green light has been provided for the construction of two radio telescopes under the name of Square Kilometers (SKA). Two radio telescopes are located in South Africa and Australia and contain hundreds of thousands of small measuring components. Dutch scientists and companies provide considerable knowledge and experience.

Everything pointed out that SKA was coming, but after many years Is it finally sure?.

‘It feels like a relief,’ says Michael von Harlem over the phone. He is the head of the Dutch SKA office in Astron. “The governments of the countries concerned have now collectively given the green light, so telescopes can start outsourcing construction.”

Different continents

SKA is a mega project. Radio telescopes with numerous separate measuring components will be installed at two locations on different continents.

The square kilometer sequence scheme actually consists of two separate telescopes: one in South Africa, one in SKA-MID and one in Australia, SKA-Low; Names refer to those telescopic sensitive wavelengths.

SKA-Mid is the first prototype of a satellite dish. Photo SKAO

Studying events

Both telescopes are designed for sensitivity at different wavelengths, so they are suitable for reading different events. In South Africa, measurement stations have satellite feeds that record high frequencies.

In Australia, a total of approximately 130,000 bipolar antennas will be installed for low frequency signals. Each copy receives radio signals from space and sends its signal to the central measurement station via laser beams and glass fibers. There, electronics capture all the laser signals and combine them into an image of the object being seen in the universe.

A telescope is large, the image is sharp and displays small details. ‘At the same time, the number of antennas determines how sensitive the telescope is,’ says Van Harlem.

Birth of stars

SKA’s telescopes are used to create images of various events in the universe.

‘The great thing is that SKA can operate as a telescope at different wavelengths and different resolutions. It will contribute to a variety of topics in astronomy, from the birth of stars in the early universe to the study of pulsars and planets. ” An interview with ASTRON.

Close-up of bipolar antennas being built for SKA-Low in Western Australia. Photo by ICRAR-Curtin

Tasks for companies

SKA’s construction is budgeted at 1. 1.9 billion (construction and operating costs for the next ten years), which will last from 2021 to about 2028. The Netherlands will contribute about 39 39 million to the project, part of which will be in the form of contracts for returning companies.

Photonics and software

Dutch engineers and companies have a great deal of knowledge about electronics in particular, along with photonics, the components that measure, manipulate and transmit light signals. Dutch technicians also have a lot of experience in developing software that converts all individually measured signals into an image, as Van Harlem knows.

‘Initially, the world of education in our country was excellent at producing progressive software. But SKA demands more. Software that controls everything and processes data should be easy to maintain and well-structured so that new parties can use it as well. Finally, the software is designed to be easily expandable. We already know that SKA should grow once the telescope works well. ‘

Knowledge of LOFAR

In the design and construction of SKA-Low, the parties concerned gratefully use the knowledge gained from LOFAR (Low Frequency Rank). It is a similar telescope made up of many fields of single, simple antennas.

The first loafer location arose in Trent in 2010, supplemented by 32 other antenna fields in the Northern Netherlands. Like the other eight European countries, the Netherlands now has 38 antenna stations.

Loafer’s ‘Super Mount’ near Eclu in Trent. It was one of the first locations of the Loafer radio telescope in operation since 2010, inspiring SKA. Photo LOFAR / ASTRON / CC BY 3.0

Take the designs

‘With SKA, we rely heavily on Lober’s experiences. We can almost take the design of the antennas and software in the background. When we built LOFAR, it was really new; We now gratefully benefit from the knowledge we have gained. You could say: ‘SKA would not have existed without LOFAR’, says Van Harlem, who has been involved in LOFAR from the beginning.

Start building the infrastructure

In the coming months, contracts will be awarded to companies, and Van Harlem estimates that actual construction of the SKA could begin in the first quarter of 2022. ‘Then you first talk about basic infrastructure, such as building roads and preparing sites for construction.’

First measurement results

The first measurement results of the giant radio telescope can be expected as early as 2024, if it is not yet complete. At the time, only 10 percent of the final telescope was built.

Von Harlem: ‘The great thing about an interferometer like SKA is that you do not need all the antennas to start measurements. If there is a small area, we will test it already. Then the telescope will not have the final sharpness and sensitivity yet, but it gives us the opportunity to eliminate any toothbrushing problems. ‘

Image Opening A joint description of SKA’s two planned telescope arrays. SKA-MID feeds in South Africa on the left, and SKA-Low’s bipolar antennas in Australia on the right. Description SKA Laboratory (SKAO)

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