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ASKAP correlator reconfiguration creates testing platform for BETA

Rear view of the FPGA-based hardware correlator for the BETA array. There are 384 10Gbps optical fibres (yellow) entering from the six separate PAF beamformer systems. The data throughput rate at this point is approximately 4Tbps.

24 February 2014

Following recent successful commissioning activity that produced the first continuum image achieved with ASKAP, the hardware correlator is now being reconfigured at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia.

The correlator, which was installed at the MRO in mid-2013, has been used for commissioning activities of the Boolardy Engineering Test Array or BETA an array of the first six ASKAP antennas installed with phased array feed (PAF) receivers. BETA will allow the commissioning team to prepare for the full 36 antenna fit-out of ASKAP telescope.

Until now, the hardware correlator operated on two simultaneous sub-arrays with ASKAP Antennas 1-3-6 and Antennas 8-9-15. From a commissioning perspective, the goal was first to satisfy the independent performance of the two sub-arrays in continuum mode. Reconfiguring the correlator to a 6-element interferometer will create the first stable ASKAP commissioning and testing platform.

Staff from the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science office in Geraldton are working with the ASKAP commissioning team to physically join the two separate 3-element correlators, by recabling the system and updating the associated software to cater for the new data output.

A key product of the reconfiguration will be a significant increase in data produced from the hardware correlator for the 'new' 6-antenna array.

"Aside from the science advantages of increased sensitivity, higher resolution and greater UV-plane coverage, we'll see an almost four-fold increase in the data output rate from the correlator," says John Tuthill, ASKAP Digital Systems Engineer, "As a result of the reconfiguration we will now have 15 baselines producing over eleven-and-a-half million data products for every five second correlator integration cycle."

In collaboration with staff onsite at the MRO, the commissioning team is now testing the correlator for basic functionality by accessing the site remotely from the CASS headquarters in Marsfield, before moving to testing under the Telescope Operating System (TOS).

In the coming weeks, ongoing software testing will accompany rigorous sky testing that will be performed onsite at the MRO .

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