Marking an impressive milestone, the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project has assembled its first prototype dish, a state-of-the-art 15-meter instrument, in Shijiazhuang, China. SKA plans to build the largest radio telescope in the world which will be 50 times more powerful than any other radio telescope today. The largest today is ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) located in Chile and has 66 dishes.
This first prototype dish was assembled by the 54th Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54), bringing together components from China, Germany, and Italy. The dish is one of two final prototypes that will be tested ahead of production of an early array. A second dish is also under production at CETC54 and funded by the German Max Planck Society; it will be shipped to South Africa and assembled at the South African SKA site in the next few months where it will be used to conduct real observations for the first time to test its performance and calibrate all the systems.
SKA has a huge computational component which is why its organizers were invited to deliver the opening keynote at SC17 last November. (see HPCwire article, SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos). For example, incoming images for a typical SKA sky map are about 10 petabytes in size and output 3D images are 5,000 pixels on each axis and 1 petabyte in size. SKA is building supercomputing centers to process and analyze the incoming signals from 200 dishes and 512 groups of antennas.
A full account of the unveiling of the prototype this week is posted on the SKA web site. “This is a major achievement by all the partners involved,” said Philip Diamond, director-general of the SKA. “After many years of intense design effort, we have an actual SKA dish, built by an international collaboration between China, Germany and Italy that is very much representative of the global nature of the SKA project.”
Notably missing from the international SKA consortium is the U.S. which had participated in earlier phases of the project.
“Our Chinese partners are extremely well resourced. They’ve demonstrated that they have the technology and capability to construct a telescope with the specifications that the SKA requires,” said Mark Harman, SKA Organization Project Manager for the Dish consortium. During the SC17 keynote, Diamond quipped, if the U.S. were to join SKA and pony up, say $2 billion, they would ‘fix’ the spelling of kilometre to kilometer.
Feature image: The fully assembled SKA dish prototype – SKA-P – at the CETC54 assembly workshop in Shijiazhuang, China. Credit: SKA Organization