Our expertise in astronomy engineering includes designing and constructing the equipment needed to receive and amplify radio waves from space.
Receivers are specialised 'cameras' that amplify weak radio signals by up to a million times. Each receiver is custom-designed for the telescope it is to be mounted on, and for the science goals it is to tackle.
Boosting cosmic signals
Radio signals from space are far weaker than those used in telecommunications. Because of this, radio astronomy requires systems with broader bandwidths, lower noise, and higher stability. We can build receivers that are cooled to just a few tens of degrees above absolute zero (-273 °C). This cooling reduces the 'noise' present in all electrical circuits, which would otherwise swamp the delicate signals from space. The receivers are also housed in an evacuated chamber.
Our specific areas of expertise include:
- electromagnetic design of components operating at high radio frequencies (microwave- and millimetre-wavelengths)
- fabrication of components to extremely high tolerances
- design of high-frequency indium-phosphide integrated circuits
- measurement of the performance of integrated circuits at cryogenic temperatures
- understanding of the properties of surface coatings, specialised alloys, and gases used in cryogenic systems
- measurement of vacuum pressures
- welding of stainless steel for vacuum chambers.
'Seeing' more of the sky
Most radio telescopes use receivers that can only see one piece of sky at a time. We have a proven track record in designing and building receivers with many separate, simultaneous beams, which includes:
- the 13-beam receiver for our own Parkes radio telescope, which made it practical for the first time to search the whole sky for faint and hidden galaxies
- a multi-pixel receiver for Cornell University’s Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which made it possible to scan the heavens seven times faster than before
- advanced phased array feed receivers on our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope, which enable it to map the sky faster and in more detail than any other radio telescope.
Phased array feed technology also has enormous potential outside astronomy. For example, new-generation satellite communications could benefit from the use of phased array feeds.