ICRAR’s engineering program is supported by 14 core team members with specialisations in antenna design, electromagnetic compatibility and radio-frequency systems.A similar number of “technical astronomers” work alongside the engineers. The program is integral to ICRAR’s aim to participate in the end-to-end design, construction, data processing and science extraction for the SKA. Our broad and world-class capabilities in both radio astronomy and engineering have been demonstrated through the successful delivery of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and two SKA verification systems. These engineering feats are pivotal in guiding the SKA’s low-frequency design.

Engineering Laboratory

Electrical engineering and computing student, Shane Overington, working in the ICRAR electronic laboratory to diagnose and repair a faulty MWA data transmission printed circuit board.

Electrical engineering and computing student, Shane Overington, working in the ICRAR electronic laboratory to diagnose and repair a faulty MWA data transmission printed circuit board.

ICRAR boasts a world-class radio astronomy engineering laboratory at our Curtin University node. This $3m laboratory was established in 2009 to support Research & Development and MWA activities and has been developed progressively. The cutting-edge facilities allow engineers to build and test components before they are deployed at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, acting as an interface between ideas and the real world. The laboratory houses world-class technology in radio-frequency test and measurement equipment, antenna design systems, electromagnetic compatibility testing, and low-noise microwave engineering.

Our radio-frequency test and measurement equipment uses world-leading technology and some are the only systems of their type in Australia.

ICRAR PhD Candidate James Buchan, Lawrence Borle from ICRAR Industry partner Balance Utility Solutions and Tom van Nunen, ICRAR engineering intern from the Netherlands prepare a power supply destined for inclusion in the SKA-Low verification platform.

ICRAR PhD Candidate James Buchan, Lawrence Borle from ICRAR Industry partner Balance Utility Solutions and Tom van Nunen, ICRAR engineering intern from the Netherlands prepare a power supply destined for inclusion in the SKA-Low verification platform.

Engineering Focus

ICRAR’s engineering program has broad objectives ranging from active participation in a range of SKA activities strengthening Western Australia’s engineering and research capabilities, and contributing to science and engineering community outreach and education. Our technical focus is on supporting next generation radio telescopes including MWA, ASKAP and the SKA, and includes:

  • Antenna design;
  • Radio-frequency engineering;
  • Electromagnetic Compatibility;
  • High-performance computing;
  • Digital systems; and
  • Software engineering.
MWA Engineering Intern Mia Walker and Engineering Support Technician Luke Horsley making adjustments to an MWA receiver.

MWA Engineering Intern Mia Walker and Engineering Support Technician Luke Horsley making adjustments to an MWA receiver.

Landmark achievements of the program to date include the successful delivery and operation of the MWA, the deployment of a verification system for the low-frequency component of the SKA, and development of a new method for detecting fast radio transients.

After the successful commissioning of the MWA, ICRAR was awarded lead roles in the SKA Aperture Array Design and Construction Consortium and the Signal Processing Consortium and will play a key role in much of the low-frequency engineering and signal processing work for the SKA. Our engineering focus is on four key projects that contribute directly to the SKA design, verification and construction. These are:

  • Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) Pre-Construction (SKA Pre-Construction);
  • Correlation and associated systems for SKA verification systems, initially as part of the Central Signal Processor Pre-Construction and now as part of the LFAA effort (SKA Pre-Construction);
  • Astronomical Instrumentation; and
  • MRO Projects Management.

LFAA Pre-Construction

An SKA-Low test antenna in the foreground of the BIGHORNS Epoch of Reionisation experiment, both at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

An SKA-Low test antenna in the foreground of the BIGHORNS Epoch of Reionisation experiment, both at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

This SKA Pre-Construction project is creating designs, prototypes and verification systems for the SKA Low-Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA), which will be deployed at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. The project is led by Dr Adrian Sutinjo and has three industry partners providing specialist services – Balance Utility Solutions, GCo Electrical and Raytheon Australia.

Correlation Systems for LFAA Verification Systems

This pre-construction project designs, prototypes and provides verification systems for correlators and beam-formers for the Low, Mid and Survey elements of the SKA. ICRAR, with support from industry partners—NVIDIA and Cisco Systems–assisted with the System Engineering and Detailed Design streams, and led two important tasks – Requirements and Architecture, and a Physical Implementation Prototype for SKA-Low. Our work, led by Prof. Peter Hall, now involves practical correlation solutions enabling the LFAA test and verification program, to be conducted in conjunction with the MWA.

Astronomical Instrumentation

Dr Marcin Sokolowski and Dr Randall Wayth installing the BIGHORNS cone antenna at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

Dr Marcin Sokolowski and Dr Randall Wayth installing the BIGHORNS cone antenna at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

The Astronomical Instrumentation project will tackle a range of science and engineering tasks, most notably enabling the MWA expansion from 128 to 256 antenna ‘tiles’. The project will also have far-reaching and long-term benefits to Western Australian science and technology associated with strengthening our industry network, development of future researchers through PhD projects and support of undergraduate and postgraduate engineering projects, and the development and optimal use of the ICRAR Laboratory for research and development activities.

MRO Project Management

View of the core, with tile and beamformer in foreground. Credit: DragonflyMedia, 2012

View of the MWA core, with tile and beamformer in foreground. Credit: DragonflyMedia, 2012

MRO Project Management is responsible for the administration, planning and compliance of ICRAR’s activities at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. This project is equipping ICRAR with expertise and experience that will be critical to the effective and efficient construction and operation of the SKA.

Evening panorama view of the MWA's East Hex, after deployment. Credit: Kimberly Steele, 2016

Evening panorama view of the MWA’s East Hex, after deployment. Credit: Kimberly Steele, 2016