Development Projects in the ATNF
Initiatives for instrumental and other development in the ATNF come from many sources, including users from outside the National Facility. After initial proposals have been made, scientific cases and first-level resource planning is done, usually with the assistance of ATNF collaborators. Proposals are then discussed and given a priority rating by the AT Users Committee (ATUC), a group established to advise the Director and AT Steering Committee, the body charged with setting high-level policy and direction for the National Facility.
In some cases ATUC ranks individual projects (e.g. a new receiver for the Parkes Telescope); in other situations it reviews full-scale programs, such as the AT Compact Array mm-wave upgrade. As well as its review role ATUC, through its representatives in universities and other institutions, provides a channel for users to present development proposals to the wider community. ATUC symposia are ideal forums for discussion of new ideas and users with requests or suggestions should contact either the ATUC representative at their institution or the ATUC secretary.
Resources for ATNF developments come from a number of sources, including Australian Government appropriation funds, external contract earnings, and one-off government allocations obtained from competitive schemes in which major AT proposals are judged against those from other science disciplines. In recent years about 5% of the ATNF $11M per annum appropriation budget has been devoted to development. Valuable matching funds have come from contracts, a good example of which is the recently-concluded Parkes Galileo tracking agreement with NASA. Most significantly however, the ATNF has been successful in bidding for one-off funding totalling almost $15M from schemes such as the Major National Research Facilities Fund, the CSIRO Capital Works Program, and the CSIRO Chief Executive's Special Fund.
The ATNF is currently in the early stages of its largest development program - an expansion funded under the auspices of the Major National Research Facilities (MNRF) program. Within the ATNF, individual development projects are frequently classified in either the "MNRF" or "other" category, often to simplify project management and accounting. However, an overall planning summary of the scope and cost of all projects is also available and is used by ATUC in their deliberations. The largest development subset, the MNRF program, has a well-defined scope and obligates the ATNF contractually to the Australian Government. Finally, the ATNF is an increasingly-active participant in an international project to design and develop the next-generation centimetre-wave radio telescope: an array of antennas with a collecting area of order 1 square kilometre.
Recent Development Highlights
Examples of instrumentation and techniques developed in recent years include:
- A major upgrade of the 64 m Parkes telescope involving replacement of the prime-focus cabin, provision of a computer controlled receiver placement system, and implementation of associated control software. This project, designed to allow rapid alternation between radio astronomy and spacecraft tracking modes, was undertaken in collaboration with outside consultants and received an honorable mention in the the 1997 Institution of Engineers (Australia) awards program. Click here for some background to the project.
- A 13 beam, dual polarization, HI receiver for Parkes. As well as the feed and front-end assembly, new backends (correlator and filter) and software packages were developed for this innovative system.
- A 3 mm band, dual polarization, tunable SIS, receiver for the 22 m Mopra telescope. The receiver covers the range 85-115 GHz, with an equivalent noise temperature of ~80 K (measured at the optics input) at mid-band.
- A 22 GHz receiver for Mopra to allow support of the VSOP (HALCA) orbiting VLBI spacecraft.
- A 22 GHz receiver for the Shanghai Observatory, Peoples' Republic of China, to allow stand-alone and VLBI astronomy in the 12 mm band.
- A high performance, narrowband, receiver for the Parkes telescope to allow support of the NASA Galileo mission to Jupiter. Click here for a background article.
- A wideband (1 - 3 GHz), low-noise, receiver for the SETI Institute to support Project Phoenix, the Institute's search for extra terrestrial intelligence using the Parkes telescope.
- A data acquisition system (DAS) for the Australian S2 VLBI network. The DAS provides bandwidths up to 64 MHz and uses digital filter technology for bandwidths in the range 62.5 kHz - 32 MHz.
- A software visualization system allowing astronomers dealing with very complex data sets to better appreciate and interpret their data.
- Techniques for 3D image formation from radio interferometer data, allowing unique pictures of Jupiter's thermal and magnetospheric emission to be made.