Parkes welcomed into the fold as 'SKA pathfinder'

The Parkes telescope under a starry sky. Credit: Wayne Englund.

CSIRO's Parkes telescope. Credit: Wayne Englund

The MPIfR PAF being installed on the Parkes telescope.

The MPIfR PAF being installed on the Parkes telescope.

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06 April 2016

CSIRO’s iconic Parkes radio telescope has been granted the status of ‘SKA pathfinder’ by the Square Kilometre Array Organisation, on the basis of its role in testing innovative new receiver systems.

This includes deploying, commissioning and developing phased array feed (PAF) receivers for radio astronomy, based on the receivers designed and commissioned on CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope.

The announcement welcomes Parkes into the group of other world-leading instruments and systems engaged in SKA-related technology development and science studies, such as the Arecibo Observatory, LOFAR and the EVLA.

The PAF work at Parkes will play a key role in the technological development of these receivers, which are under consideration for the SKA.

Parkes Observatory, just outside the central-west NSW town of Parkes, hosts the 64-metre Parkes radio telescope, affectionately known by many as ‘The Dish’.

Parkes has been in operation since 1961 and continues to be at the forefront of astronomical discovery thanks to regular upgrades. Its many contributions include playing an instrumental role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969, the detection of the majority of currently-known Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), and significant discoveries in the study of pulsars – a field in which the SKA will play a fundamental role.

The Dish recently welcomed the arrival of a PAF receiver, designed and built as part of an agreement with the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (MPIfR). Once characterisation testing is complete on the Parkes telescope, this PAF will be deployed on the Effelsberg telescope in Germany.

Into the future Parkes will also develop ultra-wideband single pixel feed receivers*, similar to those currently being developed by Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden as part of the development of SKA technologies.

This work will usher in a new regime of very wideband receiver systems, keeping Parkes at the forefront of radio astronomy into the SKA era.

*CSIRO’s ultra-wideband feed development project has received funding through an Australian Research Council LIEF grant being led by Swinburne University of Technology, with support from MPIfR and NAOC and six Australian universities.

A full list of SKA precursors and pathfinders is available on the SKA website.

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