Industry Involvement

Although the primary focus of the SKA project will be to undertake discovery-based science, an instrument with such a revolutionary capacity is certain to advance our understanding in a range of other fields, including unexpected paradigm-shifts in non-science areas. 

In particular, the project's design and construction has the potential to produce significant technological and economic spin-offs in a range of areas such as ICT, electronics, digital receivers and renewable energy. These are areas of particular interest to industry. Many Australian companies are engaged with project through the Australian SKA Office.

Below are examples of Australian companies who have contributed to the design and construction of the Australian SKA.

Case Studies 

Collapsed - Astrocompute in the Cloud - International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

The data processing needs of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) present a significant challenge and opportunity for the project.

The SKA Science Data Processor (SDP) is expected to process up to 1 terabyte per second of data and create around 200-300 petabytes of data products each year. The SDP element of the SKA focuses on the design of the computing platforms, software and algorithms needed to process data from the correlator into science data products.

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has been closely investigating Cloud computing as a means of addressing the SKA data storage and processing capabilities required by the international user community. Cloud computing refers to the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server or personal computer. Due to the large amounts of data, it was acknowledged early in the design process that a single data centre with a limited power budget was insufficient to process and analyse the data needed.

Realizing the huge potential offered by one of the largest public service Big Data projects in the world, Amazon Web Services (AWS) established a grant program to support international radio astronomy research. The program, Astrocompute in the Cloud, is administered by the SKA's project headquarters in the United Kingdom. Following a call for proposals in April 2015, ICRAR-led proposals were successfully awarded more than $50,000 under the program, which was around a quarter of the total funds available. 

The data pipeline of the SKA’s Science Data Processor will be a complex network producing petabytes of information yearly. Image Credit: ICRAR/Peter Ryan

Cloud environments are changing the way software and workflows are designed. These usage patterns are closely monitored by Cloud providers who are eager to cater for Bid Data analytics. As such, the SKA, and in particular the SDP, is at the cutting edge of this rapidly increasing multi-billion dollar market.

Collapsed - Balance Utility Solutions

The SKA will have significant power requirements that must be delivered at remote locations in mid-west Western Australia. Supported under the Australian SKA Pre-construction Grants Program, Balance Utility Solutions are working with Curtin University to understand and deliver the power requirements for the Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) component of the SKA. The LFAA refers to the set of antennas, on board amplifiers and local processors which are required to receive signals from the lowest frequency band for the SKA. A major challenge for the consortium is the sheer scale of work to be undertaken with well over a hundred thousand antennas to be built in Australia to exact specifications.

Balance Utility Solutions seeks to service the growing market for integrated and sustainable energy solutions. They have considerable experience working on the development and delivery of large scale energy infrastructure projects.

The company has greatly assisted Curtin University in examining the feasibility of novel LFAA power solutions, and in developing an optimum power distribution strategy. In particular, the work has demonstrated that using an alternating current in power reticulation to LFAA core station, with medium voltage direct current at the stations, the preferred solution in terms of cost, efficiency and radio quietness. In addition it was found that stand alone solar stations were a practical and efficient approach to supplying power to remote LFAA stations. 

AAVS1 array power distribution control unit (developed by Balance Utility Solutions) unboxed and under EMC test in the ICRAR/Curtin anechoic chamber.  Credit: Curtin/ICRAR.

Balance is now working on the design of power systems for an LFAA prototype with Curtin, including the design and prototyping of the LFAA station power distributor.

Balance CEO Rod Hayes says "working on the SKA alongside Curtin University and ICRAR has created unique opportunities for Balance technical staff and the business and has positively assisted in broadening Balance's capabilities, especially in the area of highly distributed low power, low-cost, radio-quiet inverters."   

MRO optical fibre.pngDirectional drilling activities at the MRO designed to route optical fibre to the MRO Control Building while complying with indigenous heritage requirements.  Credit: Curtin/ICRAR.

The company has worked closely with the University throughout the SKA Pre-construction Stage, with Balance also providing training opportunities for Curtin Students. This has included the placement of a PhD student currently working with the company.

More information on Balance Utility Solutions can be found at: 

Collapsed - Innovation Composites

Innovation Composites, a company based in Nowra, NSW, is a precision composites and fibreglass manufacturer. They have expertise that has evolved from the marine industry into a broader spectrum of work.

CSIRO is working with Innovation Composites to develop and produce radio frequency interference (RFI) - Shielded, high-strength, weather-proof and insulated casings for ASKAP's PAF receivers that are lighter and more cost-effective the previous designs. 

To house the PAF receivers, installed on ASKAP antennas, the design must integrate a number of functional requirements into a single part robust enough to endure the extreme climate and remote nature of the MRO.

The company works closely with CSIRO engineers to develop and manufacture a made to order design that will meet the special requirements demanded by the working environment of ASKAP. Success was achieved through applying the specialist production knowledge of Innovation Composites to the challenge of radio frequency interference - a well-known obstacle in radio astronomy.

The PAF casing design incorporates marine composites technology to manage structural loading, thermal insulation and environmental protection in a single part. The casing uses a multi-skin foam-covered composite design with both glass-fibre and carbon-fibre reinforcement.

The carbon-fibre will also provide a level of RFI shielding, isolating the ASKAP receivers' internal electronics from the radio-quiet atmosphere of the MRO - home to CSIRO's ASKAP telescope.

The design also demonstrates how the application of industrial skills from disparate fields can be applied to problems in the construction of instruments for advanced science.

Collapsed - Puzzle Precision

A project on the scale of ASKAP relies on industry providing expertise in production, construction, installation and commissioning to demanding requirements. Such a project also introduces technical challenges that must be overcome in the design and construction of the telescope's components.

Advanced high-performance PAF receivers mounted on ASKAP antennas will produce an instantaneous and wide field-of-view using simultaneous electronic beams. 
CSIRO is working with Puzzle Precision to jointly develop and produce sophisticated electronic circuit boards and major components for ASKAP's digital systems. Puzzle precision is a high-reliability electronic assembly service provider based in Newcastle, NSW. The high quality and accurate assembly and inspection service provided by Puzzle Precision ensures large scale delivery of intricate and complex electronics boards for ASKAP.

What first started as a handful of simple boards assembled for CSIRO's Compact Array Broadband Backend (CABB) project has now grown to thousands of units of complex boards and mechanical assemblies. These form part of ASKAP's innovative PAF receivers and associated digital systems. Achieving exceptionally high yield on these cutting edge, high-volume, printed circuit boards is crucial to the project's success.

The ability of Puzzle Precision to meet the stringent demands of ASKAP demonstrates how small industry partners can provide industry-specific expertise to meet the requirements of highly technical equipment. 

The relationship with CSIRO and the ASKAP team have contributed to the expanded production base of the company. Australian capability in the production of mission critical, highly reliable electronics has also been enhanced.

Collapsed - Aavid Thermacore Europe (via JHC Specialised Solutions)

Forming part of CSIRO’s radio telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), the Phased Array Feed (PAF) creates 36 simultaneous beams to give greater resolution to radio images of the sky. PAF includes a requirement to maintain a low and stable temperature. This is crucial for system performance and reliability. A custom-designed groundplane has been developed to minimise temperature gradients and maintain predictable temperature uniformity across the highly sensitive electronics over the course of long observations.  

Aavid Thermacore Europe is a world-leader in the field of passive thermal management systems. They specialise in the custom design, development and manufacture of highly-engineered components. CSIRO has engaged with Thermacore, via local agents JHC Specialised Solutions, to design and prototype the PAF groundplane. The groundplane features embedded heat pipes for thermal management. The pipes, designed by Thermacore, are based off of a design developed and provided through CSIRO. 

Steve Barker, project leader at CSIRO, recently visited from Sydney, Australia to present a plaque to staff at Aavid Thermacore Europe’s Ashington staff thanking them for their support with the ASKAP project. “Throughout their time working on the project, the staff at Aavid Thermacore continually went above and beyond to provide support and guidance to our engineers on-site in Australia. “Their knowledge and expertise in thermal management has enabled us to progress with the project, so I am delighted to present them with a Recognition Award for all of their hard work.“


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