A recent major upgrade to our Australia Telescope Compact Array telescope has greatly enhanced its capability for scientific discovery, and has lead to the next generation of telescope signal-processing systems.

The challenge

Keeping the Compact Array at the forefront of astronomy

Our Australia Telescope Compact Array began operating in 1988. After more than 20 years of service, its systems for transforming radio signals into useable data needed to be upgraded to ensure that it remained one of the world's most productive radio telescopes.

Our response

Turning a data stream into a torrent

We used our expertise in astronomy engineering to undertake a seven-year, $12 million upgrade called the Compact Array Broadband Backend project.

During the upgrade the dishes and receivers that do the initial amplification of radio signals from space stayed the same but just about every other piece of equipment the signals pass through was changed. We designed and built 32 special processing boards, each with 26 layers and 4000 components, for the project.

The results

Developing the next generation of signal-processing systems

The upgrade increased the Compact Array's bandwidth—the 'chunk' of radio spectrum it can handle at any one time—sixteen times. It also made the telescope four times more sensitive to faint radio signals, and less sensitive to radio-frequency interference, greatly enhancing its capability for scientific discovery.

Demand for our new technologies has been strong, and they have been taken up by other radio observatories around the world.

The project has also lead to the next generation of telescope signal processing systems. What we learned as part of the Compact Array Broadband Backend project has already been used in the development of our newest radio telescope, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, itself a precursor to the international Square Kilometre Array telescope.

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