Wow! Summer’s here already! Where has 2018 gone? What have we achieved this year?
These phrases are often heard as we approach the festive season and I am delighted to be able to offer CSIRO’s, and our MRO partners’ and colleagues’ responses, for the last few months at least, with the release of the 2nd Edition of the MRO News. Our first Edition (September 2018) was well received and we hope that you continue to enjoy reading about the many activities occurring at the MRO.
I was delighted to be involved with CSIRO’s very first Open Day(s) at the MRO during October 2018 (more on this below) and while logistically quite demanding, it was an extremely worthwhile event that provided a fantastic opportunity for a number of the general public to visit the MRO and experience the facility and learn what we do there.
I joined a few of my colleagues from CSIRO’s Land & Water Division on a recent visit to the MRO to further assist CSIRO in obtaining an understanding on land condition and infrastructure capability. During which, I had the opportunity to visit my very first Boolardy water point…I obviously don’t get out that much, and might not again for a while, so the obligatory photo was taken!
Just recently I invited the Director of the Pawsey Supercomputing Facility (Perth), Mr Mark Stickells, to attend the Mid West Research & Development Foundation Committee meeting held in Geraldton. Mark provided an overview of Pawsey and offered guidance/strategies on how the Mid West Research community could access the High Performance Computers within Pawsey (more below).
As you read through this edition of MRO News, you will learn of the many activities that are occurring, not only at the MRO itself, but further afield at State, National and International locations, all in the interest of progressing and further developing the Radio-astronomy capability upon the MRO. From changing an electrical cable in the Control Building to the recent SKA International Board of Directors meeting, all the components are coming together to help put the Mid West WA (and Australia) on the Global Map, with the delivery of world-leading Science and Engineering capability at the MRO.
As always, if you’d like to send feedback about the newsletter, or find out more about something in particular, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
In closing, some of you may heard that CSIRO recently had a vehicle accident while driving to the MRO. This was a routine journey, carried out frequently by our staff and colleagues, which unfortunately resulted in the vehicle clipping a bund and rolling over.
Thankfully, none of the vehicle occupants were seriously injured, with all occupants walking away from the accident unaided and receiving appropriate medical attention back in Geraldton.
The accident investigation is ongoing, however I wanted to bring this accident to your attention and remind all those that are travelling over the festive and summer season to take extra care when doing so; even the most routine of journeys can end badly if due diligence is not exercised.
I wish you a safe and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Kevin Ferguson, CSIRO
Two of our research scientists, Max and Aidan, have been at the MRO recently to continue the ASKAP commissioning work. Now that all the digital processing hardware is installed, we are working on several improvements to the control system, and preparing to bring the last 8 antennas into the array so we can begin full operations in 2019. We look forward to seeing the first images from the full-scale telescope soon!
The local team has been busy with a number of routine and not-so-routine activities. On the routine side, we’ve had a number of repairs and maintenance items including repairs to dehydrators that supply dry air for the phased array feeds (PAFs), the receiver element on the antennas. We’ve also had to perform maintenance on various cooling systems and the antenna drive systems.
The antennas are driven by five motors each and we’ve been upgrading the firmware of the drive system that controls these motors. It has been a slow and steady process to upgrade all, five by thirty six systems, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. So we’ll nearly be ready to design the next improvement!
We’re expecting a shipment of equipment from our Marsfield office very soon. Various spare items and test jigs will be arriving. These are built by our engineers in Marsfield. The test jigs will allow us to test repairs to equipment on site before installing them.
On the not-so-routine side, we’ve had some power problems in the screened MRO control building. One of the RFI filters supplying power to the correlator room decided it was at end of life and had an internal melt down, rupturing its soldered seam in the process. Luckily this is enclosed in another steel housing and the event wasn’t serious from a safety perspective. These filters are large three phase 415V 840A devices.
Our ‘Roto’ Merlo had to have a trip to town after it developed a leak in the main boom hydraulics. It is back on site now and staff were excited to be able to use it again. It is a bit faster to travel between antennas on this than our other elevated work platform.
Astronomy observing was paused while we hosted three unique visits. On 4 October, we hosted a bus load of PhD students from the annual radio astronomy school, followed by the public open days on the 5th and 6th - more on these below.
Other visits to site included a group of senior overseas astronomy scientists, members of an SKA consortium, an Indigenous Land Use Agreement negotiating team member, and the annual Pia school students.
Max, Aidan and I also had an outside video link hook-up one evening to the UK. This was to align with a visit by the G7 science advisors to the SKA headquarters in the UK. Our end was in the evening to match the morning in the UK. China and South Africa also dialled in to the same video hook-up, with each site discussing aspects of their site operations.
Heritage surveys across the SKA site continued at Boolardy which are mentioned elsewhere in this newsletter.
An MWA team is currently on site, with engineers and scientists from Italy, working on their own scientific tests and equipment.
Also on the pastoral side, we’ve had the dogger come through, and we’ve done a number of repairs to bores and wells around the station. Thanks also to those who were out from the local community to help with injecting baits for the aerial baiting.
We’ve had a new back lawn laid at the Boolardy homestead, along with an irrigation system using waste water from the water treatment plant. A power system upgrade is also underway with a new generator and changes to the overall control of the power system. The aim is to improve reliability of the system, and the ability to control the system in a safer manner when there is a fault.
It’s been another great year out here, the natural beauty at Boolardy always surprises. I snapped this field of flowers on my way out from site back in October.
It feels like it’s been a very busy year and we’re all looking forward to a wind down and a bit of a break.
We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year.
Brett Hiscock, CSIRO
It’s been another busy three months here at the Australian SKA Office, with many developments and productive discussions here in Canberra, in West Australia and in Europe and the UK.
I recently returned from the UK, where the SKA Board of Directors met at the new SKA Headquarters in Manchester, England. These meetings are important for keeping the many moving parts of the project on track. Each of the 12 member countries for the SKA Project has two board representatives – a voting member and a science member.
Australia’s voting member is Jane Urquhart who is head of Science & Commercialisation Policy at our Department of Industry, Innovation and Science here in Canberra. The science member is Dr Douglas Bock, Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.
The Board meeting and other discussions focussed on the work needed to establish the SKA Observatory–the international organisation that will oversee the construction and operation of the SKA. This includes developing business plans, budgets and funding, and a range of models for operations, procurement, partnerships and governance.
We’re expecting the international treaty signing - to establish the SKA Observatory - to happen in late February in Italy.
Design work for the SKA is progressing well. In the next few months we expect to see the formal conclusion of three more design ‘packages’. These are the two infrastructure designs (for Australia and South Africa), and the Central Signal Processor (CSP) where the SKA’s data will be processed.
The two infrastructure engineering consortia, led in Australia by CSIRO, have completed designs for the support systems required to build and operate the SKA in Australia and South Africa. This includes roads, buildings, power, water and sanitation, technical buildings, as well as the required radio-frequency shielding on these buildings to protect the telescopes from interference.
The CSP is a bit like the central ‘brain’ of the SKA. A CSIRO-led research group has delivered designs for one sub-element of the CSP for the SKA-Low instrument, to be constructed at the MRO.
Once all 12 of the design consortia complete their work, the next step will be an overarching system-wide design review to ensure all the ‘pieces’ fit together. Then a proposal for construction will be developed, with construction expected to start around 2021.
The Australian SKA Office is continuing its work with the WA Government, CSIRO and local stakeholders to establish the SKA site in the Mid West. You can read more details on this elsewhere in this newsletter.
Finally, the SKA Regional Stakeholders Group meeting will meet in Geraldton on 11 December, where we will provide a detailed update on the project.
David Luchetti, Australian SKA Office
Since the last newsletter, most of the activity around SKA1 Low has been in completing various engineering design reviews at the SKA Offices in Manchester, UK.
As mentioned above, each of the design teams is progressing through its Critical Design process, leading towards the overall SKA System CDR in November 2021. In addition, a Construction Planning workshop was held at the end of November with a focus on developing the details of all the construction “work” (called the Work Breakdown Structure – WBS - rather unimaginatively) and honing the estimated cost. The WBS is a key document for any large project, as it ensures all aspects of the work are captured and assigned so that no single area is either missed – or just as seriously – delivered by more than one team.
In early 2019, we are likely to see the installation of a small “station” (group) of the next version of the SKA Low antenna. The proposal suggests the deployment of 48 SKA-Low (SKALA4.1) antennas at the MRO, for the purpose of testing the design of the antenna. The primary purpose of the tests is to look at how this antenna’s design can be calibrated. The radio signals we detect are so weak, that any aspect of the instrument that varies with time or makes calibration difficult, can significantly degrade the instrument. So careful testing of prototypes is essential, to confirm the theory!
Ant Schinckel, CSIRO
The primary Infrastructure design work is complete!
However like many of the SKA engineering design packages, we are now entering a period of final detail design, known as “Bridging”.
This covers everything up until the procurement phase; providing time for things like minor design changes arising from each of the design teams progressing through their final own Critical Design Reviews, developments in technology, and other factors such as the outcomes of the heritage surveys, and budget constraints.
At the end of this bridging phase, we will help the SKAO generate the procurement documentation and work packages.
CSIRO has worked closely with Aurecon to complete the SKA infrastructure design work and this image of Aurecon’s Rebecca Wheadon is taken from the SKA’s Twitter feed, where they have been promoting some of the people involved. The SKA twitter handle is @SKA_telescope.
Ant Schinckel, CSIRO
The Australian SKA Office (ASKAO) and CSIRO are continuing to progress the important agreements associated with establishing the SKA site.
We have held another meeting between ASKAO, CSIRO and The Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (WA Government) on the terms of the new lease for Boolardy Station. This will change the lease from a pastoral lease to one with radio astronomy as the main purpose. The meetings are going well, with significant progress made.
At the end of October, ASKAO and CSIRO held another meeting with the Principal Contacts of the Wajarri Yamaji negotiating team on the terms of the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA). Good progress was made and a follow-up meeting with the full negotiating team is scheduled for early December.
We are well into the process of performing the heritage surveys. A significant area was “walked” recently, in the north west of the Boolardy Station. Before Christmas, we hope to do further surveys in that area and also to commence the southern walkover.
The image above shows a team photo taken back in September; (standing - from left to right) Anthony Dann, Daniel Puletama (Archaeologist), Len Merry, Matthew (Macho) Simpson, Ted Ryan, Robert Ryan, Lenny Merry (JNR), Philip Haydock (Anthropologist), Ansel (Junior) Egan, Cohen Merry, Kane Whitby, (kneeling - from left to right) Ronnie Merry & Thomas Whitby.
Ant Schinckel, CSIRO and David Luchetti, Australian SKA Office
The months of October and November saw a number of engagements occur across the Mid West community.
During October, the Radio School held in Geraldton, the MRO Open Day(s) and the Pia School visit all resulted in visits to the MRO and tours of the facility, and are discussed throughout this letter.
An ILUA Liaison Committee meeting was held in Geraldton during November. This provides the Wajarri Yamaji, the CSIRO and the DIIS the opportunity to review activities and opportunities occurring at the MRO and ensure all are conducted in compliance with the existing ILUA.
The Mid West R&D Foundation Committee meeting was held in November. This meeting helps to identify opportunities that may be occurring in the R&D environment, through possible engagement with Universities and also across other sectors, and how this can benefit the Mid West, and also how the Mid West can influence, and/or get involved with the activities.
Mr Mark Stickells, Director of the Pawsey Supercomputing Facility located in Kensington (Perth), was invited to attend the recent Mid West R&D Foundation Committee meeting. Mark provided an overview of Pawsey and offered guidance/strategies on how the Mid West Research community could secure access to computational time on the High Performance Computers (HPC) within Pawsey. This was an excellent opportunity for the committee members to learn specific knowledge of Pawsey and possibly how to put in place a strategy that would increase the Mid West’s opportunity to secure computational time. The committee also learned of ‘entry’ level strategies that may benefit from the use of the (Pawsey) “Director’s Share” of computational time.
Mark was then provided with a tour of some of Geraldton’s educational and research facilities. These included visits to the Batavia Coast Maritime Institute (BCMI), the WA Centre for Rural Health (WACRH), The TAFE campus (Durack) and the Geraldton Universities Centre (GUC). Rob Jefferies (Chair of the R&D Committee) was the facilitator of the visits and our thanks go to Rob, Juan (BCMI), Sandy and team (WACRH), Steve (Durack), and Natalie (GUC), for taking the time to show us around and provide for some fascinating conversations throughout. Mark has stated it was an excellent and extremely informative experience. Mark then visited the Mid West Development Commission (MWDC), thanks to Rob/Adam. Mark has indicated he intends to revisit Geraldton in March 2019.
Kevin Ferguson, CSIRO
We have appointed an Electrical Services provider for services to Western Australia, including Boolardy Station and the MRO, following Request for Tender CSIRORFT2017010. The new contract is for a three year term and includes a nominated Geraldton based sub-contractor.
Our Pastoral Management Plan focuses on improving the range condition across all of Boolardy. Previous condition assessments of Boolardy Station identified a decline in the ecological health of Boolardy more pronounced than other stations in the region.
The Station was destocked to arrest the decline and to achieve improvements in the condition of the rangelands. The key areas of focus include a continued program of decommissioning and management of stock waters, a targeted upgrade of the perimeter fences, ongoing improvement of key infrastructure across the Station and improving the feral animal control program.
We are aiming to release a Request for Tender in early 2019 for the excavation and installation of pipework infrastructure to connect an existing water treatment facility to two existing, but unused, bores to support the supply of additional drinking water to the accommodation camp at Boolardy Station.
Jeff Arbon, CSIRO
In the first MRO Newsletter, we briefly described some of the activities that need to be controlled, to satisfy the radio astronomy radio-quiet requirements. In this edition we answer why such precautions are necessary.
Radio telescopes such as ASKAP, MWA and SKA, pick up very faint signals from natural chemical interactions in stars, gas and dust clouds in space.
How sensitive are these telescopes?
- The signal needed to connect a mobile phone call is about 1,000,000,000,000,000 times larger than a typical radio astronomy signal.
- All the power collected by all the radio telescopes in the world since the start of radio astronomy in the 1920s would light a 1W bulb for less than 1 second.
- Telescopes at the MRO can see FM radio signals reflected from the moon’s surface.
- Lightning storms produce high levels of radio interference to our telescopes.
It is so easy for a man-made signal to drown out the small, subtle signals from space and this is why it’s so important to limit man-made signals at the MRO.
In the coming months, CSIRO will be seeking quotations to install new Radio Quiet Zone (RQZ) signs. The purpose of the RQZ signs is to inform travellers when they are entering and leaving the inner RQZ.
Carol Wilson, CSIRO
Things have been quiet on site at the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) since the last newsletter, barring one notable event - the MRO Open Days!
Director Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Project Officer Mia Walker and Data Manager Greg Sleap represented the MWA team during this public event, giving tours of the array core, correlator room, and the additional projects on site. These other projects are the result of having hundreds of collaboration members with innovative ideas for how to do radio astronomy, and access to the pristine radio-quiet environment of the Observatory, with which to test their ideas in parallel with the MWA. The operations team helps to build and maintain other projects where required, however the external instruments usually operate independently of the MWA.
The most notable example of an external project nearby the MWA site on the MRO, is the Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS). This circular arrangement of 256 “Christmas-tree” antennas is the testbed for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) consortium, to analyse the performance of their hardware before the rollout of the full low-frequency SKA (It's pictured above with the story by Ant Schinckel on SKA1 Low).
This is necessary because, when built, the low-frequency SKA will consist of ~130,000 antennas. With so many components, it is crucial that all the systems in the signal chain are properly tested in the field, so that any issues can be identified and removed before final deployment. The log-periodic antennas under test are called SKALA, and are best tuned to a frequency range of 50-350MHz, similar to MWA dipoles.
The biggest diﬀerence between the MWA and the AAVS is the immediate transfer of analog signal to fibre in the SKALA antennas. Sending data over fibre instead of copper, reduces signal loss but introduces additional antenna complexity and cost.
While the AAVS was still undergoing review prior to construction, Curtin University designed and built the Engineering Development Array (EDA). This is another project, replicating the antenna layout of AAVS, but using MWA dipole antennas instead of SKALA antennas.
It is essentially 16 MWA tiles pushed together into one large super-tile. Because the MWA antennas have already been thoroughly characterised, the EDA helps us understand how a large group of randomly spread antennas can be expected to perform. This in turn helps the SKA consortium, by providing a well-tested and understood instrument, to compare with the new AAVS and offers a risk-mitigation pathway for the SKA.
The current version of the EDA does not incorporate conversion of signal straight to fibre like AAVS but this will be remedied in the next version, to be built mid-2019.
This was just a taste of some of the different projects that coexist with the MWA, pushing the boundaries of engineering research so that astronomers have the best tools available to study the Universe.
Mia Walker, Curtin University
CSIRO astronomers and engineers continue to work through the tail-end of the telescope commissioning process.
This involves work now that is focussing on things like the subtleties of the various operating modes, bringing the final few antennas and digital systems on-line, and increasing the “ingest” capacity of the Galaxy computer at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth.
We are also well into a program called “ASKAP Early Science”. This is not the full all-sky surveys, which ASKAP will commence next year, but a smaller test set. We are using up to 28 of the antennas to collect data that the astronomers can work with and use to test their own software systems, as well as genuinely look for “new” things. One surprising discovery has been a record-breaking number of more than 20 fast radio bursts (FRBs). Scientists don't know what causes them but it must involve incredible energy—equivalent to the amount released by the Sun over an 80 year period.
FRBs are a very recent astronomical discovery, the first was discovered by the Parkes telescope in 2007. Since then, telescopes around the world have been focussed on searching for FRBs and have detected a total of about 27. ASKAP has detected 20 fast radio bursts in a year, almost doubling the number detected worldwide.
CSIRO's Keith Bannister, who engineered the systems that detected the bursts, said ASKAP's phenomenal discovery rate is down to two things:
• The telescope has a whopping field of view of 30 square degrees (think of looking up at the full moon, times that area by about 100 and that’s the size of the field that ASKAP can see in a single pointing – plus we see it with great sensitivity deep into the Universe); and
• by using the telescope's dish antennas in a radical way, with each pointing at a different part of the sky, we observed 240 square degrees all at once—about a thousand times the area of the full Moon.
Keith says ASKAP is astoundingly good for this work and we now know that FRBs originate from about halfway across the Universe. However we still don't know what causes them or which galaxies they come from and his team’s next challenge is to pinpoint their source.
We had a chat to the FRB team and made this short video which explains more about FRBs and ASKAP.
This is a classic example of you don’t really know ALL of where the capabilities of a new telescope will take you in terms of the science that comes out. You always know about some likely good science when you design a new telescope -but the exciting thing is that around 70 % of the science that will come out of ASKAP in the next 10 years will be unexpected!
Ant Schinckel and Annabelle Young
A group of over eighty university students and astronomers visited on the 4th of October. It was a bit of a trial run for the open days with the visitors doing a bus day trip from Geraldton. The tour included the control building, ASKAP antennas, MWA and the power station in a similar manner to the visit for the shire residents in the preceding month.
It was a worthwhile visit for these students, I think they can now appreciate a little more what happens when they hit <enter> on their computer keyboards. Antennas grind away and information from space ends up as bits of light on fibre travelling to the Pawsey super computer!
The open days followed on the 5th and 6th of October, and by all accounts were a big success. We had about 200 visitors catching buses from Geraldton and the shire over the two days. This was the first time the site was opened to the public.
Visitors relished the occasion and we’ve had some very positive feedback. All seemed to enjoy the opportunity to see antennas and the processing equipment first hand and to be able to hear from and question staff about what they do and how the instruments work.
CSIRO continued its engagement with the Pia Wajarri Community School. On the 24th of October, Shivani Bhandari, Rob Hollow, Leonie Boddington and Geoff King visited the Pia school and engaged staff and students in a variety of educational activities. Shivani gave a well-received talk about her work and background, before the students experienced a virtual reality tour of space and had some hands-on activities about the scale of the Solar System. Clear skies allowed for some solar viewing with the H-Alpha solar telescope though unfortunately the Sun was disappointingly quiet. The following day they drove out to the MRO and explored the antennas at the ASKAP core (pictured above) and inspected the correlator room in the control building. James Hannah showed the Pia students and staff some of the digital equipment and explained why we draw circuit diagrams. After a tasty lunch the group had a brief visit to the MWA and the power station, before heading back to Pia.
On 16 November, Elaine Sadler, ATNF Chief Scientist, led a visit to the MRO, accompanied by Tim de Zeeuw, Chair of the International Advisory Board of ASTRO 3D, Kristine Spekkens, Member of the SKA Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC), Charlotte Sobey and Gulay Gurkan, CSIRO, and Yathu Sivarajah, Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.
Annabelle Young, CSIRO
I’m Lou and one of the local CSIRO staff supporting operations at the MRO.
I grew up and went to school in Northampton. Completed my apprenticeship as a boilermaker welder and worked mostly in the mining industry, in QLD and WA, before starting with CSIRO in 2010.
As one of the first people employed from Geraldton, I’ve really enjoyed being part of the construction project and staying on for operations and maintenance. It is a great job and I work with a great bunch of people. I was always interested in astronomy and science in general, and very pleased to be part of such a large and long term science project.
Recently, we came across this little lad who couldn't keep up with mum, so he called in for a bit of attention at the Boolardy Homestead and adopted some of the locals! At this age, they have 'upside down naps' in their Mother's pouch, so when I picked him up, he flipped into that 'comfy position'.
I tried to put him down and get on with the rest of the day's work - little Skip hopped around following us. We distracted him by finding a nice juicy patch of lawn to feed on, before re-joining his mob.
When not at work, I have spent a lot of my free time lately in getting my Light Sport Aircraft pilot certificate. Hoping to fly out soon to visit Paul at Twin Peaks and also looking forward to landing at the Murchison Settlement Airstrip. So far most of my flights have been along the coastline, hard to get lost that way!
Lou Puls, CSIRO
CSIRO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the traditional owners of the MRO site.