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Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope
14 August, 2014

Networking the Square Kilometre Array

Reliable fast research network connectivity is critical for processing the deluge of data that will be generated by the next-generation SKA telescope, co-located in remote Western Australia and southern Africa.

AARNet is among the Australian participants in the global Square Kilometre Array project

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an ambitious global scientific and engineering project to build the world’s largest most sensitive telescope co-located in remote desert regions of southern Africa and Western Australia. The project is currently in the design and pre-construction phase. Australia and New Zealand collaborated to establish the SKA candidate site in Western Australia and also to build the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope now located there.

When the SKA is operational, hundreds of thousands of antennas will hugely increase the ability of astronomers to explore the far reaches of the universe and address mysteries around dark energy, gravity and life elsewhere.

Watch this video produced by the Australian Government Department of Industry for an explanation about the project and the role Australia plays:

Square Kilometre Array future plans

You can also learn all about the SKA project at the SKA Organisation website.

More than 250 scientists and engineers from 18 countries and nearly 100 institutions, universities and industry are involved in ‘work packages’ for different elements of the design. Australian industry and research institutes will participate in seven of the eleven work packages.

AARNet has been working with CSIRO in Signal and Data Transport (including synchronisation) (SaDT).

Led by the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics group at University of Manchester in the UK, the SaDT consortium has designed a network system that will transport unprecedented amounts of data over vast distances, while ensuring that signals are synchronised in a way that enables the arrays to operate together like a single telescope, a huge challenge given the large number of antennas spread over hundreds of kilometres.

Expanding the network to meet the needs of the SKA

To enable Australia’s participation in the SKA project, AARNet expanded its network across the Nullabor, from Adelaide to Perth and on to the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO), the future home of the SKA in remote outback Western Australia.

The newly deployed terrestrial network is capable of transmission speeds of up to 8 Terabits per second (Tbps). The network expansion is a component of the National Research Network (NRN) Project, an initiative of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, funded from the Education Investment Fund under the Super Science (Future Industries)

Connecting the SKA precursor telescopes at the MRO

To develop technologies for the SKA, two precursor telescopes, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), have been built and are now operating at the MRO. AARNet Interconnects the telescopes at the MRO with the computer processing required for extracting useful information from the signals. Fast reliable research network connectivity is critical for processing data generated from the new radio telescopes.

The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is an innovative new radio telescope consisting of 36 identical 12-metre wide dish antennas. Plans are in place to add 60 more dishes to the telescope in the SKA’s first phase. The ASKAP uses revolutionary Phased Array Feed (PAF) technology, developed in Australia by CSIRO and others, which enables each dish to survey the sky with a much wider field of view. The volume of data generated by the PAFs and low frequency receivers will be substantial.

CSIRO and AARNet worked together to connect the ASKAP antennas to the AARNet network. New optical fibres were laid between Geraldton and ASKAP, connecting to the new Geraldton-Perth link constructed by Nextgen Networks for the federal government-funded Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. This enables ASKAP to connect directly via a high-capacity link to the Pawsey supercomputing facilities in Perth.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a revolutionary static low-frequency telescope that can be shared by observers studying different parts of the sky at the same time. Knowledge gained from the MWA will contribute to the development of the low-frequency component of the SKA to be built in Phase two.

AARNet and CSIRO collaborated to deliver a transmission network for the MWA. The network is installed on fibre optic infrastructure constructed by AARNet for the CSIRO and by Nextgen Networks for the federal government-funded Regional Backbone Blackspots Program.

AARNet is providing the network services for the transmission of the data between the MWA sensors and the Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science, located 800kms away in Perth.

The network is scalable to support the needs of the MWA now and into future early phases of the SKA.

Through its relationship with CSIRO and Australian universities, AARNet’s contribution to radio astronomy in Australia over the past two decades played an important role in positioning Australia for the SKA.”

Square Kilometre Array Observatory
Dr Brian Boyle

Australia/New Zealand SKA Director