Tuesday, April 16, 2024

ICRAR-designed SMART Boxes to power world’s largest radio telescope

Engineers at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have developed a ‘SMART box’ to power the world’s largest radio telescope.

The Power and Signal Distribution (PaSD) SMART boxes (Small Modular Aggregation RFoF Trunk) are an essential component of the Square Kilometre Array Low frequency (SKA-Low) telescope, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, in Western Australia.

The SMART boxes provide electrical power to the SKA-Low telescope‘s 131,072 antennas and collect incoming radio signals received from the sky to go off-site for further processing.

“The SKA-Low telescope will receive exquisitely faint signals that have traveled across the Universe for billions of years,” said Tom Booler, Program Lead for Engineering and Operations at ICRAR. “To detect them, the SKA-Low telescope is being built in a pristine radio quiet zone far from the interference created by modern technology.”

“It’s so radio quiet at the observatory site that the biggest potential source of interference is the electronics like ours due to the proximity to the antennas. That meant our project had to meet the strictest radio emission requirements across the entire Australian SKA site,” he added.

The Engineering and operations team at ICRAR designed and built the first set of 24 SMART boxes, which were ten years in the making. The team worked hard to source special ‘radio quiet’ parts that emit minimal interference. The parts were then wrapped in a specially designed case to prevent any stray radio waves from escaping.

The boxes underwent successful testing at a dedicated electromagnetic test facility in South Africa.

“The ‘radio quiet’ results that the ICRAR-designed SMART boxes achieved were to the highest standards in radio astronomy. A mobile phone on the surface of the moon would cause more interference to the antennas than the SMART boxes that sit among them,” Mr. Booler said in an official release.

Perth-based company AVI was recently awarded a contract to build up to 12,000 SMART boxes for the entire fit-out of the SKA-Low telescope. The telescope will explore the first billion years, mapping the structure of the early Universe for the first time, watching the births and deaths of the first stars, and helping us to understand how the earliest galaxies formed.