A world-leading telescope in its own right, our new ASKAP radio telescope is also allowing us to test technologies for the much larger Square Kilometre Array.

Made up of 36 antennas working together as a single instrument, our newest radio telescope – the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP – will capture radio images of the sky in more detail and faster than ever before. It will allow astronomers to answer fundamental questions about our Universe, such as the nature of cosmic magnetism and the evolution and formation of galaxies.

Where is ASKAP?

CSIRO's Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia.

ASKAP is located at the CSIRO-run Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the Mid West region of Western Australia. The observatory is remarkably 'quiet': it is relatively free of human-generated radio signals that would otherwise interfere with weak radio waves from space. Construction began in early 2010, and all 36 antennas and site infrastructure were completed in mid-2012. Installation of ASKAP's complex receivers and electronic systems, as well as telescope commissioning, is currently underway.

Processing of the vast amounts of data generated by ASKAP is done at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth.

What makes ASKAP unique?

The design of ASKAP is unique among radio telescopes:

  • It uses specialised receivers called 'phased array feeds' (rather than conventional receivers known as 'single pixel feeds') to detect and amplify radio waves, a development being pioneered by CSIRO especially for ASKAP.
  • Its antennas are able to move in three directions (unlike most other radio telescopes, which move in two directions) to capture high-quality images with its phased array feed receivers, and ensure the telescope can scan the whole sky.

These attributes mean that the telescope will survey large areas of sky with unprecedented sensitivity and speed.

Engaging with industry for ASKAP

Collaboration with industry has played a crucial role in the development of ASKAP, enabing significant progress on ASKAP's computing architecture, low-noise amplifier design, and geo-exchange cooling systems.

For example, we worked closely with specialist electronics manufacturer Puzzle Precision, based in Newcastle, NSW, who delivered 20,000 printed circuit boards (made from six million individual components) and mechanical assemblies, with very high reliability, required for ASKAP's specialised phased array feed receivers.

[Image appears of satellite dishes against the night sky and text appears: Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope Murchison, Western Australia]

[Images move through of Lisa Harvey-Smith and Antony Schinckel looking at a computer screen and then Lisa Harvey-Smith talking to the camera and text appears: Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, Research Scientist, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith: It’s amazing when you look out into the universe and you see something that no human has ever seen before.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a satellite dish and then the camera zooms out to show an aerial view of a site of satellite dishes and text appears: ASKAP, Innovative technology built in partnership with industry]

[Image changes to show Lisa Harvey-Smith and Antony Schinckel looking at a computer screen and then the image changes to show Antony talking to the camera and text appears: Antony Schinckel, Assistant Director, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science and ASKAP Founding Director]

Antony Schinckel: ASKAP is truly amazing.

[Images move through of the satellite dishes of the Square Kilometre Array, cars moving along a road past the satellite dishes, and then Antony talking to the camera]

It’s 36 separate antennas acting together as one big telescope but the most innovative part of ASKAP isn’t the dishes. The dishes just act as the big collecting area to bounce the radio waves up to the detector.

[Image changes to show a close-up view of a satellite dish and the camera pans up to show the detector at the top and text appears: Radio Frequency Detector, Frequency range 700-1800 MHz]

That detector, that’s the exciting part.

[Music plays and the images move through of a close-up view of the detector, Antony talking to the camera, a phased array feed, and a male working on the phased array feed and text appears: A phased array feed (PAF) captures 94 signals at once]

Older sensors just captured one signal but we’ve designed a new sensor using a phased array feed, a PAF, that captures 94 signals at once.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a group of satellite dishes against the night sky and then the image changes to show Lisa Harvey-Smith talking to the camera]

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith: Astronomers used to spend years and years trying to study the whole sky and now we can do it in an instant.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a diagram of the night sky and then the image changes to show Lisa Harvey-Smith’s face]

[Image changes to show Dr Douglas Bock talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Douglas Bock, Director, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

Dr Douglas Bock: But to do that we have to build a telescope that essentially is a super computer that has enormous data rates.

[Music plays and images move through of Dr Grant Hampson looking at a control board lit up and then writing in a notebook]

Dr Grant Hampson: This is cutting edge technology.

[Images move through of Grant talking, Grant working on a control board, Grant talking to the camera, an aerial view of buildings in the desert and then the control board and text appears: Dr Grant Hampson, Research Engineer, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

A thousand, million, million, operations per second executed 24/7 in the middle of nowhere and this is probably a factor of 100 times faster than the existing radio astronomy systems.

[Images move through of Mia Baquiran standing in front of a computer system talking, a control board and then Mia talking again and text appears: Mia Baquiran, Digital Systems Engineer, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, That kind of capability is made possible by industry]

Mia Baquiran: The scale at which we’re processing information, it’s, that kind of capability is made possible by industry and our ability to collaborate with them.

[Music plays and images move through of five males gathered around a circuit board, a close-up of a circuit board, a view of the workshop and Craig Coburn talking to the camera and text appears: Craig Coburn, Director, Puzzle Precision, Collaborating with industry to create ASKAP, Puzzle Precision, Newcastle NSW]

Craig Coburn: We’re Puzzle Precision.

[Image changes to show Kescia Ball standing in the workshop and talking to the camera and text appears: Kescia Ball, CEO, Puzzle Precision]

Kescia Ball: We operate out of Newcastle, New South Wales and have done since 1994.

[Image changes to show a circuit board being soldered and then the image changes to show a tray of circuit boards and then the image changes to show Kescia talking to the camera]

We had approximately 20,000 circuit boards go through our facility for the ASKAP project.

[Images move through of a machine, Matthew Shields talking to the camera, a circuit board running through a machine, and Matthew talking to the camera and text appears: Matthew Shields, Platform Solution Architect, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

Matthew Shields: We’ve taken over 6,000,000 components and each of these components are precision placed by machine and then they’re soldered down, and the soldering is the secret here.

[Images move through of a male working on a computer and looking at a circuit board, Craig talking to the camera and a male looking at a computer screen and then a circuit board]

Craig Coburn: The boards we make need to be able to handle extremely harsh environments without failure.

[Images move through to show Adam Macleod talking to the camera, three males looking at a computer screen, and then Adam talking again and text appears: Adam Macleod, ASKAP Electronics Production Manager, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

Adam Macleod: With Puzzle, this is not business as usual. This is having a partner who will work with us to refine the designs and make sure they’re manufacturable.

[Images move through of Craig, Matthew and another male in the workshop and then the image changes to show Antony talking to the camera]

Antony Schinckel: These are not systems you can just buy off the shelf.

[Image changes to show a close-up view of a circuit board and then the camera zooms out to show a group of males looking at the circuit board]

No one makes anything this powerful and specialised. That’s why we need to work with industry.

[Image changes to show Antony talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a male writing on a whiteboard and then the image changes to show a group looking at a circuit board]

We need to learn from industry and we need to help industry solve Australia’s big challenges.

[Music plays and the camera zooms in on the circuit board and then the image changes to show people working on a circuit board and then the image changes to show Kescia talking]

Kescia Ball: The work that CSIRO gives us, it is world class work.

[Images move through of components for a circuit board, a group in conversation, Female 3 talking, a control board, two people looking at a circuit board and Kescia talking to the camera]

They come to us with new ideas that haven’t really been tried and we haven’t seen before, and we have to figure them out and it’s actually pushing our innovation and it’s actually pushing us further.

[Image changes to show three males walking past a work bench and then the image changes to show Craig talking to the camera]

Craig Coburn: It has expanded our horizons, there’s no doubt about that.

[Images move through of a rear view of a male walking through the workshop, employees working in the workshop, and Female 3 talking to the camera]

Kescia Ball: We have actually expanded our facility and our team to take on those new capabilities and take those on to new projects.

[Music plays and images move through of employees working in the workshop and text appears: Puzzle’s workforce grew by 50% to create ASKAP. Most of the team is young. All are local.]

[Image changes to show Jamie and Sarah standing and talking to the camera and text appears: Jamie and Sarah, Senior Staff, Puzzle Precision]

Sarah: I didn’t have any skills to come here. I’ve learnt them all on the job.

[Images move through of employees at work and then the image changes back to show Sarah talking to the camera and then the image changes to show employees at work]

I really like it. It’s challenging, and you learn new things every day. Not everyone gets to do that.

[Image changes to show Sarah standing next to another female and talking to the camera]

So, this is pretty cool. Yeah.

[Music plays and text appears on a black screen: At Puzzle and beyond, ASKAP has invested more than $100 million in Australian jobs and innovation]

Antony Schinckel: Well of course we’re doing astronomy.

[Image changes to show Antony talking to the camera]

We’re trying to understand the universe but we’re doing so much more. We’re not just building telescopes. We’re building industry. We’re building economy and we’re building Australia’s capacity for innovation in the future.

[Images move through of cars moving down roads through the ASKAP array in the desert and then the image changes to show Matthew talking to the camera]

Matthew Shields: Through ASKAP we’ve built systems that will have flow on effects for industry across Australia and possibly the world.

[Music plays and images move through of a large type of circuit board, a close-up of the satellite dish and then Lisa Harvey-Smith talking to the camera]

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith: The awesome thing about science is we do it out of curiosity. We don’t know how it’s going to benefit everyone but you know, look at Wi-Fi in this very building here in Sydney. Wi-Fi was developed by a team who were trying to understand black holes.

[Camera zooms in on Lisa Harvey-Smith as she talks to the camera]

So, you know, we just don’t know what amazing benefits are going to come from the ASKAP project for the wider world. But it’s going to be very exciting to find out.

[Music plays and the image changes to show an aerial view of the ASKAP array in the desert and the camera pans around the site in a clockwise direction and text appears: CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science, Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, Western Australia, We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji as the traditional owners of the Observatory site]

[Music continues to play and CSIRO logo and text appears: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

ASKAP :  We partnered with Puzzle Precision to build our innovative radio receivers.

ASKAP and the Square Kilometre Array

As well as carrying out cutting-edge science in its own right, ASKAP is allowing us to test revolutionary new technologies for the Square Kilometre Array – an international project to build the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

ASKAP's home, the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, is also located in the same region as the Square Kilometre Array telescope infrastructure in Australia is to be centred. In its first phase, this infrastructure will include thousands of low-frequency dipole antennas in what is called an aperture array.

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

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