A team of Australian engineers and scientists has designed the local infrastructure for the world’s largest radio telescope – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – taking the billion-dollar global project one step closer to reality.

[Music plays and an image appears of a cloudy night sky and text appears across the centre of the screen: Was Einstein right about gravity?]

Narrator: Was Einstein right about gravity?

[Image changes to show another view of the night sky and outer space and the camera zooms through space and text appears: What makes magnetic fields in space?]

What makes magnetic fields in space?

[Image changes to show another view of outer space and text appears: How have galaxies evolved over time?]

And how have galaxies evolved over time?

[Image changes to show a view of outer space and 12 different country flags appear in the centre and then the image changes to show a spinning world globe and text appears: SKA, Square Kilometre Array]

To answer these questions and more, a dozen countries are building the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array or SKA in Australia and South Africa.

[Image continues to show the spinning world globe and small inset video clips of different scientists at work surround the spinning globe and text appears inside the globe: Global Mega Science Project]

It’s taking 500 engineers and scientists from 20 countries to design the SKA, a truly global mega-science project.

[Camera zooms in on the world globe until South Africa can be seen on the face and the South African flag and text appears: South Africa, Design Infrastructure Approved]

This massive billion dollar observatory has just passed an important milestone.

[Image shows the world globe spinning again and then Australia can be seen on the face and the Australian flag and an inset video of an outback road to the site can be seen and text appears: Australia Oceania, Design Infrastructure Approved]

The overarching designs for infrastructure at the Australian and South African sites are now approved bringing this innovative telescope one step closer to reality.

[Image shows the inset video being replaced by the CSIRO and the Aurecon logos on the map and then the camera zooms in on the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory site on the map]

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency worked with industry partner Aurecon to design SKA infrastructure at the Australian site, our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the remote Western Australian outback.

[Images flash through of the outback in Western Australia, an employee working on the antenna, various people working on the project, and a car moving along an outback road]

Experience in designing infrastructure for radio astronomy and a long standing partnership enabled the team to solve technical challenges with innovative solutions.

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Building the telescope will involve installing up to 132,000 antennas spread over 2,000 square kilometres of Australian outback.

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They’ll be linked by hundreds of kilometres of fibre optic and power cables to a purpose built data processing facility.

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The telescope’s own equipment including custom super-computing and electrical infrastructure has the potential to interfere with the unique radio quiet environment.

[Images move through of a model of the shielding equipment and text labels appears on the model: Radio frequency interference, Fully welded steel skin]

So, CSIRO and Aurecon developed innovative shielding techniques, reducing the level of radio emissions by factors of billions.

[Images move through to show the South African SKA site, drilling equipment, a female working on computing equipment, an aerial view of a telescope, and South Africa on the globe and text appears: South Africa]

CSIRO and Aurecon also work closely with the SKA infrastructure team in South Africa and develop joint solutions where they face similar challenges both designing the key infrastructure for this world class radio telescope.

[Image changes to show Australia on the world globe and inset images move through on the map of the antenna groups in the outback and then the camera zooms out to show the globe in space]

Together we are moving into the detailed design stages of the SKA and onto construction in 2020.

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[Music plays and the camera continues to zoom out and the SKA, CSIRO and Aurecon logos and text appears: For more information, visit www.csiro.au/mro or www.skatelescope.org]

[Text appears: We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamaji people as the traditional owners of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory site]

Plans for world's largest telescope come into focus

Additional Resources

The SKA will explore the Universe in unprecedented detail, doing so hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

Antennas will be located in both Australia and southern Africa.

The SKA Infrastructure Australia consortium, led by CSIRO – Australia's national science agency – and industry partner Aurecon Australia, has designed everything from supercomputing facilities, buildings, site monitoring and roads, to the power and data fibre distribution that will be needed to host the instrument at CSIRO's Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in remote Western Australia.

The project has presented unique technical challenges.

"We're setting the groundwork to host 132,000 low-frequency SKA antennas in Australia. These will receive staggering amounts of data," CSIRO's SKA Infrastructure Consortium Director, Antony Schinckel said.

"The data flows will be on the scale of petabits, or a million billion bits, per second – more than the global internet rate today, all flowing into a single building in the Murchison.

"To get this data from the antennas to the telescope's custom supercomputing facilities we need to lay 65,000 fibre optic cables."

CSIRO and Aurecon engineers drew on their experience working together on the infrastructure design for the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, CSIRO's 36-dish radio telescope that is already operating at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

Aurecon's Senior Project Engineer, Shandip Abeywickrema, said the design team's biggest challenge was minimising radio 'noise' created by the systems placed at the high-tech astronomy observatory.

This is essential to avoid drowning out the faint signals from space that the telescope is designed to detect.

"Containing the interference created by our own computing and power systems is an unusual construction requirement," Mr Abeywickrema said.

"We're trying to reduce the level of radio emissions by factors of billions.

"For example, the custom supercomputing building is effectively a fully welded box within a box, with the computing equipment to be located within the inner shield, while support plant equipment will be located in the outer shield."

Australian SKA Director, David Luchetti said that while the CSIRO-Aurecon team has been working on the infrastructure designs for Australia, a second consortium had designed the infrastructure for the South African SKA site.

"CSIRO and Aurecon have delivered world-class designs, and the collaboration between the Australian and South African infrastructure consortia is a great example of the massive global effort behind the SKA project," Mr Luchetti said.

"Infrastructure isn't usually seen as an arena for innovation, but this project has produced innovative designs, in Australia, which may have applications beyond astronomy.

"In addition to the incredible scientific potential of this project, we expect that the SKA will generate many spin-off benefits that we can’t yet anticipate.

"We want to make sure Australia is best placed to capture these benefits."

This design work was funded by the Australian Government and the European Union.

The Infrastructure Australia group, and counterparts designing SKA infrastructure in co-host country South Africa, are among 12 international engineering consortia each designing specific elements of the SKA.

These consortia represent 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries.

Once all the design packages are complete and approved, a critical design review for the entire SKA system will take place ahead of a construction proposal being developed.

Construction is expected to begin in 2020.

For more information, visit www.csiro.au/mro or www.ska.gov.au .

We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamaji people as the traditional owners of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory site.

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Images

  • Aerial shot of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Western Australia.

    CSIRO and Aurecon engineers have designed infrastructure that will transform 3,500 square kilometres of Western Australia’s Murchison Region into a world-class scientific facility for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope.

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  • Artist’s impression of the buildings of the supercomputing facility for the future Square Kilometre Array.

    Artist’s impression of the supercomputing facility for the future Square Kilometre Array – the world’s largest radio telescope, to be built at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, in outback Western Australia.  ©Aurecon Australasia

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  • An artist’s impression of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Australia.

    An artist’s impression of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Australia. Up to 132,000 low frequency antennas (resembling metal Christmas trees) will be built at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in outback Western Australia.

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  • Antony Schinckel, Rebecca Wheadon, Aurecon, David Luchetti and Shandip Abeywickrema, standing in front of a photgraph of the Milky Way.

    (L to R) Antony Schinckel, CSIRO, SKA Infrastructure Consortium Director, Rebecca Wheadon, Aurecon, SKA Infrastructure Australia Project Manager, David Luchetti, Australian SKA Director, Shandip Abeywickrema, Aurecon Senior Project Engineer.

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  • Fibre-optic and power cables linked together along the ground as part of the Square Kilometre Array.

    Up to 132,000 antennas, spread across 2,000 square kilometres at the Australian SKA site in Australia, will be linked together by hundreds of kilometres of fibre-optic and power cables.

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  • Dirt road leading up to one of the radio telescopes in the Square Kilometre Array in the distance.

    CSIRO and Aurecon Engineers have completed designing the infrastructure for the Square Kilometre Array – the world’s largest radio telescope which will be co-located in South Africa and in Australia at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in outback Western Australia.  ©

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  • Computing equipment and cables.

    The Square Kilomtre Array (SKA) telescope in Australia will receive staggering amounts of data - the data flows will be on the scale of petabits, or a million billion bits, per second – more than the global internet rate today, all flowing into a single building in the Murchison.

    Download image
  • An artist's impression of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Australia, showing 132,000 low frequency antennas (resembling metal Christmas trees) in groupings across the outback in Western Australia.

    An artist’s impression of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Australia. Up to 132,000 low frequency antennas (resembling metal Christmas trees) will be built at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in outback Western Australia  ©SKA Organisation

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