Welcome to the winter edition of MRO News!
As we now enter the second half of the year, the region has experienced some exceptional winter rain that has provided much needed benefits and at the same time thrown us a few challenges to manage. In this edition of the MRO Newsletter, we're bringing you news from the Observatory and information about related activities from beyond the MRO.
The SKA is steadily progressing with some exciting stages being achieved and milestones identified for delivery. The Boolardy infrastructure has received some much needed improvements, and the Curtin-led team at the MWA location is progressing the SKA-Low antenna prototype test-related activities.
The local Cubs and Scouts have hopefully progressed further in adding another badge to their sleeve, and some of CSIRO’s Scientists have offered an insight into some really interesting astronomy and space science projects.
I hop you enjoy the newsletter and as always, if you’d like to send feedback, or find out more about something in particular, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow all the CSIRO Australian Telescope national Facility (ATNF) news on Twitter @csiro_atnf
Kevin Ferguson, CSIRO
The routine support activities continue for ASKAP and we recently spent some time solving a mystery air leak on one of our phased array feed or ‘PAF’ receivers. The story is a bit technical but it opens a window to our ASKAP site activities, so I thought I'd share it with you, starting with a bit of background information!
The PAF receiver elements look a bit like a chequer board (pictured on the left) and behind this sits 188 radio frequency receivers. The 188 receivers each amplify, filter and then convert the radio energy into a light signal, which is transmitted via fibre-optic cable to the control building. The receiver electronics comprise a number of modules that we call dominos. These internal PAF electronics are sensitive to moisture, so the casing is water-tight. In addition, the PAFs are sensitive to radio interference, including from other nearby PAFs, so their outer housing has a radio frequency shield built into it. To replace the receive elements (dominos) access via one of four hatches is required on the top surface (pictured right).
It turns out the air leak was coming from a hatch cover seal, no surprise there but what is surprising is that the seal appears to be in perfect condition. Talking to our technicians in Sydney, we’ve learnt they had trouble with the seals when they tried to remove a hatch after it had been in place for about a year. So we might be learning to replace these seals by the sounds of it!
With regard to other activities around the MRO, the recent rain has been great for the country but it exposed one of our fibre-optic cables. The cables are buried in a 500mm trench. Water running across the ground exposed the cable but we quickly covered it and then also conducted a quick maintenance grade of the internal MRO roads.
As many of our readers know, radio telescopes are very susceptible to radio frequency interference (RFI) and we need to be vigilant about ensuring our own infrastructure doesn't generate any destructive RFI. So as part of our routine site maintenance, we have taken radio emission measurements of our own equipment on site, to ensure we are maintaining emission standards.
On the fire protection side, we have had DFES out to do a site inspection covering the ASKAP area and the power station. Separately, a consultant has been engaged to review our bush fire management plan. DFES will also be conducting basic fire fighter training for our staff.
Curtin Uni is working in collaboration with international groups on SKA low antenna research and my team has commenced planning for the increased high voltage power load on the site.
Back at our Geraldton support facility we've hosted a few outreach events and I’ll be joining the CSIRO and Curtin Uni crew at the Geraldton Museum on the 15th of August as part of National Science Week, where we will be presenting a talk on The Moon to the Murchison and it would be great to see you there!
Brett Hiscock, CSIRO
Following the Regional Stakeholders Meeting, we'll be meeting with the Murchison community to discuss ways the SKA project may be able to provide benefits.
It was great to get to Geraldton on 14 May for another meeting of the SKA Regional Stakeholders Group. These meetings are an ideal forum to discuss regional issues, opportunities and challenges surrounding the SKA project’s construction and operation in the region.
The meeting was attended by Councillors Andrew Whitmarsh and Emma Foulkes-Taylor from the Murchison Shire, Daryl Smith from the Meenangu Wajarri Aboriginal Corporation, Joanne Fabling from the Mid-West Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Leigh O’Brien from the Museum of Geraldton. There were also representatives from the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments, as well as CSIRO and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.
The meeting covered a range of issues relevant to the local community including repairs to water points around Boolardy Station, the extension of the Boolardy airstrip, and upgrades to numerous roads. We also heard about successful outreach events with the Geraldton Scouts and Scinapse.
In other news, an international consortium comprising 11 countries, including Australia, has completed the design of the SKA’s Science Data Processer, responsible for turning the masses of digitised signals collected by the telescope’s receivers into detailed astronomical images of the sky.
At the heart of the processer will be a supercomputer that’s 25% faster than anything currently in existence. In total, up to 700 petabytes of data (700 million gigabytes) from the SKA will be distributed globally every year – that’s enough to fill more than a million average laptops.
This data will be transferred at astounding speeds – around 5 terabytes per second, which is 100,000 times faster than the projected global average broadband speed in 2022.
While these are amazing numbers, I’m conscious they don’t do a lot for a farmer looking to manage their property. I undertook to the Councillors in attendance to have a follow-up meeting in the coming months to look at ways the project may be able to provide benefits to the Murchison community.
David Luchetti, Australian SKA Office
Image caption: The P3 (platform performance prototype) at the University of Cambridge, used to test the design for SDP. Credit: SDP Consortium
Testing prototypes and technologies on site is important because the environmental conditions and radio quiet environment at the MRO are so unique.
The design teams for SKA-Low are now moving steadily towards the major System Critical Design Review (CDR) I mentioned in the last newsletter. This is a review by an external expert committee of the overall system design of SKA-Low and is scheduled for December 2019. On the path to that, there is a great deal of work to do involving the acceptance of design documents from relevant groups and merging these together into the overall system.
There is a number of key activities associated with the final design associated with this creation of the system design - included in that is testing of the prototype antenna designs. You’ll see in the report below on Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS), some work at the MRO on testing the various evolutions of the design. This work is best done at the MRO because it exposes the antennas to the environmental conditions that the production units will face - and of course, in terms of verifying their performance, this would be very difficult to do in the RFI-intense environments in Europe.
We have continued to plan the SKA operations activities, and several more workshops are planned for 2019. The major SKA engineering meeting this year will be held in Shanghai in November.
Ant Schinckel, CSIRO
The team recently enjoyed a really useful visit to the MRO which overlapped with the Wajarri Heritage Survey Team.
The Infrastructure team has continued to respond to changes associated with the ‘close-out’ of the reviews of other sub-elements (we closed ours in 2018). This, as well as responding to design change requests from the SKAO, costing and schedule honing, has taken much of our time.
A number of members of the infrastructure team recently visited the MRO. The purpose was to examine (again) some of the potential locations for some of the primary items of SKA infrastructure, including the main central processor facility (CPF) and construction camps. A very useful visit, including an overlap with the Wajarri team responsible for the heritage surveys, which proved immensely informative to the team.
The Request for Information (which shares the acronym 'RFI' - confusingly!) on power supply for the SKA which I mentioned in the last newsletter, has now closed and we received a number of excellent proposals. These will inform the development of the final procurement model for powering the SKA at the MRO.
Ant Schinckel, CSIRO
The heritage surveys have continued though into this cooler period, albeit with continuing weather problems ranging from extreme heat to heavy rain.
Nevertheless, several more surveys were scheduled and they've all been partially completed, though not without the loss of some days due to the weather.
Ant Schinckel, CSIRO and David Luchetti, Australian SKA Office
We enjoyed hosting the local Cubs and Scouts at our Geraldton site and invite everyone to a night of great science talks on August 15 at the Geraldton Museum
Stakeholders range from a number of varied organisations, to a local group of people, even to a single person and we were delighted to host the Geraldton Cubs and Scouts at the MSF (CSIRO Building) in Geraldton. Engaging with the kids and having the opportunity to teach them about astronomy and the infrastructure required, ranging from a single optical telescope to the complex ASKAP telescope out in the Murchison, was rewarding not just for the cubs and scouts, but for the staff who engaged with them. I hope they all earned an astronomy badge…including the CSIRO staff?
In addition to the important task of engaging and teaching the young ‘stars’ of the future, The MSF also hosted an event with Scinapse, where visiting CSIRO scientists provided talks on their exciting science research including pulsars, ASKAP science projects, and space research activities.
The Mid West Regional Stakeholder Group meeting was also held during May. As always, this was a well-attended group meeting and many discussions and information sharing was conducted.
The Mid West Research and Development Foundation Committee meeting was held during June. This committee helps in identifying opportunities that may be occurring in the R&D environment through the possible engagement with universities and a range of other sectors, to deliver benefits to the Mid West and enable the Mid West community to influence and/or get involved with these activities.
The Geraldton Goodness Festival kicks off on Saturday 10th August and coincides with National Science Week. Amongst other venues, the Geraldton Museum is hosting some science -related events and on the 15th CSIRO scientists and engineers are teaming up with a couple of engineers from Curtin Uni to present an evening of talks on astronomy and technology from the Moon walk to the Murchison - we hope to see you there!
Kevin Ferguson, CSIRO
Airstrip reopens and a bit of housekeeping around the Station
We've been keeping busy with a few maintenance and improvement activities and as mentioned above, one of these is bush fire management. Our Plan includes the full Boolardy pastoral station and the final report is expected soon.
We've completed improvements to the airstrip at the homestead and this involved raising the height of the cross intersection of the airstrips (water previously pooled there in rain), improving drainage with diversion trenches to divert water around the airstrip, and extending one of the runways. The airstrip work has passed inspection and it's now back in regular use.
Around the Boolardy accommodation area we've repaired the water treatment plant and replaced the bore pump. The Boolardy driveway entrance has also had a maintenance grade and on the pastoral side, maintenance has been done at a number of water points.
For future work, planning is ongoing with regard to connection of new bores to the accommodation water treatment plant and boundary fencing work is under consideration.
Brett Hiscock, CSIRO
While there has been lots of activity at the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) site in the last three months, not much of it has had to do with the telescope specifically! The array has happily operated in the background while the operations team and researchers from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) have been busy preparing for the construction of the low frequency Square Kilometre Array telescope (SKA-Low).
This means rolling out 256 of the newest SKA-Low antennas. The first 48 have been assembled on the large mesh base (pictured). They’re connected to new technology called SMART boxes, which are responsible for converting the antenna’s sky signals from copper wire to glass fibre. Fibre doesn’t suffer from signal loss as much as copper so it’s more suitable for transporting data over the long distance between the antenna field and the control building, and from there to Geraldton and beyond. These SMART boxes have been used in both the new SKA-Low antenna field and the second Engineering Development Array (EDA2).
EDA2 is a replica of the SKA-Low antenna field, but uses MWA ‘bowtie’ antennas instead of the ‘Christmas tree’ antennas, and this makes it an excellent comparison tool.
We also made some upgrades to the container on the edge of the field that you can see in the photo. This is called the Field Node Distribution Hub (FNDH), and it provides power to the antennas and combines the data before it's sent to the control building. All these systems are currently operational and the first 48 antennas are already collecting sky data, so it won’t be long before the rest of the 256 antennas are installed.
In the meantime, system calibration is taking place. To do this, small drones are being used to inspect the performance of these antennas by flying over them in specific patterns and observing the response. Curtin engineers were excited to get their remote pilot’s licenses for this application!
Click the link below or here to watch a video made recently by ICRAR about these developments.
Mia Walker, Curtin University
Image caption: A bird’s-eye-view of the first 48 antennas installed on AAVS1.5. Image credit to ICRAR/Curtin.
An ASKAP science team has localised a fast radio burst!
Astronomers using ASKAP have pinpointed the location of a millisecond-long fast radio burst. It's a world-first discovery of great significance to the astronomy community and of course CSIRO is very excited that our telescope has enabled this great science.
The localisation work was done by an Australian-led international team of astronomers who determined the precise location of this powerful burst of cosmic radio waves. The fast radio burst (FRB) occurred about four billion light-years away from us here on Earth!
After ASKAP determined the precise co-ordinates of the galaxy from which the burst originated, the galaxy was then imaged by three of the world’s largest optical telescopes – Keck, Gemini South and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope – and the results were published online by the journal Science.
Fast radio bursts are massive flashes of radio waves that last less than a millisecond, making it difficult to accurately determine where they have come from.Dr Bannister’s team developed new technology to freeze and save ASKAP data, less than a second after a burst arrives at the telescope.
This technology was used to pinpoint the location of FRB 180924 to its home galaxy (DES J214425.25−405400.81). The team made a high-resolution map showing that the burst originated in the outskirts of a Milky Way-sized galaxy about 3.6 billion light-years away. He said if we were to stand on the Moon and look down at the Earth with this precision, we would be able to tell not only which city the burst came from, but which postcode – and even which city block!
The cause of fast radio bursts remains unknown but the ability to determine their exact location is a big leap towards solving this mystery.
Watch how it all unfolded by clicking on the video link below!
Annabelle Young, CSIRO
From the bush to the beach and with a great appreciation for the night sky, Kurt is very happy enjoying everything on offer in the great Mid West!
Gyday, my name is Kurt Warhurst. I joined the CSIRO's ASAKP team in January 2017, and thoroughly enjoy working and living in Western Australia.
Originally from Bundaberg Queensland, as a 6th generation Aussie, I have now relocated with my wife Emma, four boys & two dogs to Geraldton - and we plan to stay!
As a young boy scout, I loved the outdoors, camping, four wheel driving and the beach. I enjoy getting out on a dirt-bike and exploring. The kids are into soccer and surfclub nippers, where I help out at Back Beach Geraldton. The beaches here are incredible, and wow, the night sky stars so bright, imagine all those thousands of galaxies.
My journey in technology was inspired by HAM amateur radios and to get into a career in electronics I studied microelectronic engineering in Brisbane, with communications systems following high school, then went on to specialise in control systems automation and general electrical engineering.
My experience over 20 years as a control engineer in heavy industry, manufacturing, water treatment, chemical, includes consulting engineering, design, commissioning and maintenance. Instrumentation design, and PLC, DCS control systems, HMI design using broad knowledge based, inquisitiveness, and a belief in life-long learning.
My work with the MRO team is the control system drives engineer. I look after details of servo motors, electrics and machinery that position the ASKAP antenna, amongst other parts of the equipment. Our team has plenty of challenges yet to fine tune the ASKAP instrument.
One thing that amazes me here still is the harsh and dramatic landscape with such incredible light, colour and variation. Just how did the indigenous people live here for thousands of years before us? Amazing. It is a long way from riding push bikes beside lush green cane fields and the beaches in Bundy.
Photography and drawing is a great past time to help learn to really look, stop, and enjoy the moment, meet people and have a bit of a laugh. Plenty of learning to do yet.
See you at the MRO!
Kurt Warhurst, CSIRO
Image caption: that's me with the cubs and scouts - I'm the handsome one in the green shirt on the left.
CSIRO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the traditional owners of the MRO site.