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CSIRO’s Telescopes to Receive Technology Upgrades

Parkes Radio Telescope
Photo Credit: CSIRO

Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grants have been awarded for the development of a new receiver for the Parkes radio telescope, and a major upgrade for the Australia Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri in NSW.

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, reportedly owns and operates both telescopes, which are for use by astronomers in Australia and around the world.

The First Grant

The AU$ 1.15 million LIEF grant will support an AU$ 3 million project to build a sensitive receiver called a ‘cryoPAF’ for the Parkes radio telescope.

The new cryoPAF will sit high above the Parkes telescope’s dish surface and receive radio signals reflected up from the dish.

Its detectors will convert radio signals into electrical ones, which can be combined in different ways so that the telescope ‘looks’ in several different directions at once.

The cryoPAF will be cooled to -253°C to reduce ‘noise’ in its electrical circuits, enhancing the ability to detect weak radio signals from the cosmos at frequencies from 700 MHz to 1.9 GHz.

The University of Western Australia led the grant that will coordinate the construction and commissioning of the cryoPAF. CSIRO, for its part, will build and install the instrument.

There are five further research organisations involved in the project.

Benefits

Professor Lister Staveley-Smith from The University of Western Australia node of ICRAR, who led the grant application, shared that the cryoPAF has three times more field of view than the previous instrument, allowing quicker and more complete surveys of the sky.

This will help astronomers to study fast radio bursts and pulsar stars as well as observe hydrogen gas throughout the Universe.

A phased-array feed or PAF is a close-packed array of radio detectors.

Moreover, Dr Douglas Bock, Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, explained that aside from boosting the capabilities of the Parkes telescope, the cryoPAF receiver technology had the potential to create spin-off opportunities.

Phased arrays have found extensive use in defence radar, medical imaging and even optical laser beam steering, with emerging applications in satellite communications and telecommunications.

The Second Grant

A second LIEF grant, worth AU$ 530,000, will support an AU$ 2.6 million upgrade of the Australia Telescope Compact Array.

The existing digital signal processor will be replaced with a GPU-powered processor to double the bandwidth of the telescope’s signal electronics.

Professor Ray Norris from Western Sydney University is leading the project and working closely with CSIRO and seven other university partners.

The upgrade will enable Australian researchers to address major challenges in the understanding of the Universe and make more ground-breaking discoveries, across broad areas of astrophysics.

The upgrade will enable the telescope to study radio counterparts to gravitational wave sources. Plus, it will enable it to make detailed observations of initial discoveries made with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder and other Australian telescopes.

CSIRO is a leader in radio astronomy technology development, working in close partnership with astronomers who use its telescopes as well as international observatory customers.

Through close collaborations with research partners and expertise in technology development, the Agency keeps the telescopes at the cutting edge of science.

CSIRO owns and operates a wide range of science-ready national research facilities and infrastructure that is used by thousands of Australian and international researchers each year.

The Parkes radio telescope and Australia Telescope Compact Array are part of the Australia Telescope National Facility, which is funded by the Australian Government.

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