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By Alison Donnellan 5 November 2020 7 min read

While a trip to WA is off the cards for most Australians right now, an immersive virtual visit to CSIRO's Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory soon won’t be.  

By applying state-of-the-art computer graphics, simulation, virtual reality and augmented reality, researchers from CSIRO’s Data61 in collaboration with CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS), CSIRO’s Information Management and Technology (IM&T) and UNSW’s Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre (EPICentre) have designed a digital twin of one of Australia’s largest radio telescopes.

Using a digital twin to explore CSIRO's ASKAP

Digital twins are virtual replicas of small and large-scale physical objects, buildings, cities, regions and systems, and often incorporate and visualise large amounts of information gathered or streamed in real-time from the site by a range of technologies such as sensors and mobile mapping.  

With this particular digital twin, users can visualise ASKAP in its entirety with a virtual or augmented reality app on their smart phone, a head mounted display, or virtual reality system such as EPICylinder (which can display almost ~120 million pixels in 3D).  

In the future, the ASKAP Digital Twin can be used via an online web platform, similar to the NSW Spatial Digital Twin.

The project itself pushed the limits of computer graphics techniques, simulation, and modelling to not only to deliver amazingly realistic replicas of the Australian landscape, but also enable the realistic positioning of the galaxies and celestial objects ASKAP is studying,” explains Dr Tomasz Bednarz, Team Leader of the Visual Analytics Group at Data61 and Epicentre's director

The user can setup a time to the hour, say 45 years from now, and the ASKAP digital twin will display an accurate visualisation of how the sky will look at that exact moment, based on current knowledge.”  

CSIRO's ASKAP Digital Twin

The team used a High-End Visualisation System (HEVS)[Link will open in a new window] to achieve multi-platform deployment. This enables viewing across virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) devices, laptops, mobiles and on ultra-high-resolution screens that use high-performance graphics clusters, such as EPICylinder. 
The twin’s AR and VR features can be used to display telescope monitoring data, such as changes to antenna orientation and their digital backend hardware.  
A future iteration of the platform will include more site-specific information, such as weather conditions and scientific data gathered from ASKAP’s observations of the Universe 

At the moment, this project is a demonstrator of digital twin capabilities, such as replaying pre-recorded historical data, but we’re planning to extend it for full tele-monitoring in real-time,” says Dr Bednarz. 

For example, weather impact information (rain, wind, sun, etc) could overlay the current visualisation. Observations could include temperature, humidity, visibility of sky, clouds, wind speed and direction, radio signals and more.” 

CSIRO's ASKAP Digital Twin.

The digital twin will enable researchers to interact with the telescope remotely, an important element given ASKAP requires radio-silence on site to not disturb observations.  

The immersive virtual representation will help engineers and technicians sift through data from over 6 million monitoring points, providing contextual information often missing from graphs and tables.

Although physically located in a remote part of Western Australia, ASKAP’s science operations team spans several distinct workplaces across the whole of Australia and the telescope provides astronomical data to researchers around the world. This made it a prime candidate for the digital twin project.

We believe the innovation of this particular work lies in the focus on the complex operational monitoring network and the aim to combine the complete process from monitoring to data processing and the resulting observational data, into the same framework,” writes the team in Digital Twin of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).  

CSIRO's ASKAP Digital Twin

 We are only at the beginning of this work and envisage that in the future more work will be done in enhancing remote collaboration at different physical sites on different hardware.” 

The ASKAP Digital Twin will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2020 Virtual in December.


CSIRO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the Traditional Owners of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory site. 

We would like to credit and thank Malte Marquarding and ASKAP Project Scientist Dr Aidan Hotan from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Mr Justin Baker and Dr Florence Wang from CSIRO’s IM&T, Mr Dominic Branchaud from UNSW Art and Design, and Dr Tomasz, Team Leader of the Visual Analytics Group at Data61 and EPICentre’s director. 

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