The DVA-1 antenna and the National Research Council Canada DVA-1 team. Credit: NRC-CNRC

TECHNOLOGY

Canadian Technology Development for the SKA

The design phase of the SKA included contributions over a dozen countries by more than 500 of the world’s finest scientists and engineers drawn from over 100 companies and research institutions. That design is now complete and construction has begun, with the first scientific results expected later this decade.

As one of the six countries that formed the initial SKA consortium in 2000, Canada participated in the SKA concept design and preparatory phase since inception. This includes SKA design contributions through four of the ten design consortia that will develop two different telescope technologies capable of delivering the required long frequency range:

  • SKA1-Low: Dishes with an aperture array of ~130,000 dipoles for lower radio frequencies (50-350 MHz).
  • SKA1-Mid : An array of around 200 dishes for higher radio frequencies (350-14000 MHz)

Canadian research and development is focused on areas of technology where we have significant experience, where there is strong potential for re-use outside of the SKA, and where we have novel and new approaches that address the performance and cost requirements demanded by the SKA.

SKA: Pre-Construction Design Work

Canada’s commitment to the SKA pre-construction phase was supported by the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and the university community, including the ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA (AACS) and partnerships with CANARIE (Ottawa, ON). Canada’s technology contributions include:

Central Signal Processor (CSP) Consortium

NRC led the CSP consortium with assistance from industry partner MDA (Richmond, BC). This work included the design of the correlators and beamformers, non-imaging pulsar search and timing processors.

Dish Consortium 

  • Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs). In collaboration with Nanowave Technologies (Etobicoke, ON), NRC has developed cryogenic LNAs that achieve world-class noise performance. They will be part of the receivers on MeerKAT that are being provided by EMSS (Stellenbosch, South Africa). One of these receiver systems is being tested with the DVA1. University of Calgary and NRC are also investigating room temperature LNAs to reduce operations costs inherent with cryogenic-cooling.
  • Radio Frequency Digitisers. University of Calgary worked on low-power, high-bandwidth analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), while NRC was responsible for the digitizers for single-pixel feeds, based in part on an ADC architecture used by McGill for CHIME.
  • Phased-array Feeds (PAF). NRC is one of a number of groups around the globe working on demonstrating phased-array feeds on dishes, with a specific focus on cryogenically-cooled PAFs for improved noise performance.

Science Data Processor (SDP) Consortium 

Canada contributed to the UK-led DSP consortium by helping address the “grand data challenge” arising from the vast daily data volumes that will be processed by the SKA.

  • Data Delivery The University of Calgary worked domestically with CANARIE (Ottawa, ON), Rackforce (Kelowna, BC) and the University of Alberta to build a test bed for SDP Data Delivery in collaboration with international partners in the UK, Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia.
  • Data Archive Processing and Access. NRC’s Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) provided support to this consortium.
  • Data-Processing Pipeline. McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary worked on parts of this data challenge.
  • Data Visualisation: Images from the SKA are so large that just looking at them is a challenge. Astronomers at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary worked with Calgary Scientific (Calgary, AB) to solve problems of data visualisation.

Telescope Manager Consortium 

Building on experience from the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) ,project, NRC is participating in the design of the monitor and control system, and on interfaces to the SKA Telescope Manager.