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Artist's impression of the 5km diameter central core of SKA antennas By SKA Project Development Office & Swinburne Astronomy Productions [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
Artist's impression of the 5km diameter central core of SKA antennas

The Square Kilometre Array will become the largest science facility built by mankind to date, with 10 times the sensitivity and 100 times the survey speed of even the largest existing radio telescopes. The SKA is a telescope built from an array of various antennas spread over a wide area.

The facility will enable the science community to probe for answers to questions about the fundamental nature of the universe, its formation and evolution, and test concepts such as Einstein's theory of relativity.

Key milestone reached
Although it is still several years away from its first trial run, December 2016 saw the 674M Euro project reach a key milestone in its global engineering process, with the positive conclusion of a crucial system design review.

The SKA's system design includes the architecture, components and interfaces of the SKA system - from receiver to antenna to data transport, processing, storage and distribution.

Final stage of design before construction
500 engineers in 11 design consortia around the globe are now gearing up towards the final stage of the design before construction in the South African desert and Western Australian outback, with the joint aim of making the Array ready for 'first light' - first observations of the sky - in 2020. Among them are the Oxford e-Research Centre's Dr Ben Mort and Dr Fred Dulwich, who are focusing on two aspects of the Array's design: The Science Data Processor and the Low Frequency Aperture Array.

Leading a team of eight, Dr Mort is designing a scaled prototype for the Science Data Processor (SDP). The SDP will move the vast amounts of raw data generated by the antenna, along with information from the Telescope Manager about when and what observations were performed, through data reduction pipelines, to form data packages suitable for scientific output. The data generated on a daily basis will be more than ten times today's entire global internet traffic.

Dealing with corrupting signals
When it is being used, the SKA will also need to be capable of dealing with interfering signals from objects in space which corrupt observations.

Drs Mort and Dulwich have recently co-authored a paper analysing the impact of these signals on the imaging performance of the Low Frequency Aperture Array: 130,000 antennas to be installed in the Australian desert. These unwanted signals contaminate astronomical observations and pose particular challenges for the SKA's low frequency component.

The paper discusses options for station designs, simulates a telescope configuration representing the SKA low frequency instrument and makes suggestions for improving the quality and value of observations, for example by adopting a core station layout which can be reconfigured according to requirements.

Their findings will help in the design of the system to minimise the effect of this interference.

Story courtesy of the Oxford e-Research Centre