Square Kilometre Array Update

From/de Bryan Gaensler (bgaensler@dunlap.utoronto.ca), Canadian SKA Science Director
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2016)

For more information on the SKA, subscribe to the Canadian SKA email list and visit the Canadian SKA WWW site.

International SKA Activities

Canada is one of 10 member countries of the SKA Organisation, and is represented on the SKA Board of Directors by Greg Fahlman (NRC) and Bryan Gaensler (University of Toronto). The Board most recently met in July 2015 (Cape Town) and November 2015 (Jodrell Bank). Notable outcomes from these two meetings included:

  • Election of a new Board Chair (Giovanni Bignami, Italy) and Vice-Chair (YIN Jun, China)
  • Discussion of ongoing site characterisation surveys, pre-construction activities, power policies, operations planning, and construction of the SKA headquarters site
  • Approval of a cost-constrained budget for the SKA Organisation for 2016
  • Consideration of a revised schedule and baseline design for SKA1

The next SKA Board meeting will be held on April 4-5, 2016 (Pune).

A SKA Data Flow Advisory Panel (DFAP) has now been convened, with Canada represented by Chris Loken from Compute Ontario. DFAP has been charged with advising the SKA Board on how to optimise the data flow system to ensure that science results can be efficiently extracted. So far, the panel has reviewed analyses of estimated science data production rates, global networking costs, potential archive sizes and the computational requirements for data re-processing and science analysis. The panel has also considered operational, resourcing and governance issues associated with implementing a solution centrally or through regional centres. The panel began its work in the fall of 2015 and held a two day face-to-face meeting in March 2016 to draft a final report.

For further information on international SKA activities, see the latest SKA Newsletter and the monthly SKA Organisation Bulletin.

SKA Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) Progress

Round 2 of the Treaty Negotiations was held in Rome on January 26-28, 2016. Nine countries were at the negotiating table with formal delegations of typically 3 to 5 people, mainly government officials in ministries responsible for science facilities or the like, with representation from ministries of foreign affairs, or equivalent. Canada was invited as an Observer and Greg Fahlman (General Manager, NRC-HAA) and Gilles Joncas (Chair, ACURA Board of Management) attended.

Good progress was made toward finalising the text of the proposed Treaty Convention that will establish the IGO, but much more work needs to be done in key areas, including the financial arrangements, matters of access to the telescope, procurement and intellectual property rights and policies, as well as the nature of the privileges and immunities required by the project to operate globally. Working groups to deal with these issues were established in the Round 1 session in October 2015 and continue their work between the formal plenary sessions. The working group chairs do share developments with the Canadian Observers although we are not formal participants in the working groups themselves.

The subsequent Round 3 is scheduled for April 19-21, 2016, also in Rome. Canada is again invited as an Observer. This was intended to be the final Round with the convention to be “initialed” and sent back to the respective governments for their internal ratification processes. It is possible that this ambitious goal will not be met and that a subsequent Round will be needed before the key elements of the Treaty are initialed by all Parties. The intent remains to finalise the Convention by the end of 2016 or early 2017. Ratification by five parties, including the three Host countries (UK, Australia, RSA), is required to bring the SKA IGO into existence. This is anticipated to happen by early 2018 in order to initiate procurement activities for the subsequent construction phase.

The principle issues for the Canadian Observers are to ensure scientific access to the facility, with opportunities to influence science priorities and to protect the substantial investment made in developing technology that would be applicable to the SKA. The SKA negotiating parties are aware of Canada’s position and conscious of the need to provide alternatives for countries unable to sign the Treaty to maintain engagement in the Project.

SKA Science and Science Engagement

Development of a new Canadian SKA website has recently been completed, and the site is now live. The site is fully bilingual, and is your starting point for all information about Canadian SKA activities.

The SKA project maintains 11 international science working groups and another 2 focus groups. Membership of science working groups and focus groups is open to all qualified astronomers. If you are interested in joining one of these groups, please contact Bryan Gaensler (bgaensler@dunlap.utoronto.ca).

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is one of three designated SKA precursors (i.e., SKA pathfinders on an SKA site), and is the only one of these three currently operational. Australian government funding has now been awarded for MWA phase 2, which will improve the sensitivity of the array by an order of magnitude. The MWA consortium held its annual project meeting and Board meeting in Toronto over Dec 7-9, 2015. The MWA Board decided to admit a Canadian consortium to the MWA project, led by the University of Toronto; the legal process to add this new Canadian partner is now underway. This will provide Canada with one seat on the MWA Board; Bryan Gaensler has been invited to attend Board meetings as an observer until the admission process is complete.

The first of a roughly annual series of SKA-related science meetings for Canadian astronomers was held in Toronto over December 10-11, 2015 (immediately following the MWA project meeting). This was a very successful meeting, attended by 63 astronomers, ionosphericists and industry representatives from Canada, Australia, India, the USA, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The meeting featured 25 talks, covering the SKA project, Canadian contributions to SKA science and technology, industry participation, SKA pathfinders, and future Canadian involvement in SKA (see the full program). In the concluding discussion, a plan emerged for a proposal to the CFI Fund, through which we would begin to develop the tools and infrastructure to support a Canadian SKA Data Centre (along with a short-term focus on similar support for VLASS, CHIME and ASKAP). A CFI proposal is now being developed, led by Erik Rosolowsky (Alberta) and Bryan Gaensler (Toronto).

The University of Toronto and the University of Cape Town will jointly host a major conference, “Fundamental Physics with the Square Kilometre Array”, in April 2017 in Mauritius. The goal is to attract the theoretical physics community to the SKA project. Bryan Gaensler (Toronto; chair) and Ingrid Stairs (UBC) are both members of the Scientific Organising Committee for this meeting.

SKA Technology Development

NRC Herzberg continues to be a major participant in pre-construction efforts across several of the SKA design consortia.

NRC has been designated the lead organisation for the Central Signal Processor (CSP) consortium, and is also leading the SKA1-Mid correlator/beamformer. Work is moving forward strongly on the powerMX FPGA platform (code-named Talon), with prototyping activities well underway.

Within the Dish Consortium, the original recommendation proposed for the downselect on the dish structure was to use the NRC rim-supported composite reflectors. However, this recommendation fell short of the 2/3 assent required by the Dish Board, and a new panelised metal reflector design from Germany and China was allowed to compete against the NRC design. A final downselect occurred in November 2015, and the review panel recommended the German/Chinese design over that developed by NRC. This was a surprising decision, and removes NRC from the SKA Dish Structure work. NRC will continue composite reflector research work for higher frequencies, and will support industry interest in commercial reflectors.

NRC continues to lead the Single Pixel Feed digitiser sub-element, passing preliminary design review and preparing to build prototypes in stage 2. The re-baselining addition of Mid band 5 (4.6-13.8 GHz) has added work requiring higher speed samplers to maintain direct conversion. NRC is collaborating with the ALMA high-speed sampler group led by U. Bordeaux, who are developing suitable high-speed samplers. NRC is continuing work on cryogenic low-noise amplifiers for single pixel feeds bands 1 and 2, and has delivered samples to Onsala and EMSS SA, respectively. These same amplifiers have been chosen for MeerKAT, and NRC is in full production with industry partner Nanowave Technologies to deliver MeerKAT bands 1 and 2. NRC will develop prototype band 5 LNAs and submit them for competitive consideration.

Work on phased array feeds (PAFs) is continuing, although the re-baselining decision deleted SKA-Survey and the PAFs from SKA1. NRC is in discussion with CSIRO and ASTRON to form a new advance instrumentation program consortium to continue work on PAFs for SKA. NRC’s L-band PAF was recently equipped with the first room temperature CMOS LNAs from U. Calgary and achieved a hot/cold test system temperature of 20 K. A full prototype to be tested on DVA-1 is being developed. NRC continues to work on cryogenic PAFs, and has moved its concept design to band 4 (2.8-5.2 GHz). A prototype will be produced, again for testing on DVA1.

Within the Telescope Manager (TM) Consortium, NRC is playing a supporting role to NCRA India to develop standards for the local monitor & control software architecture. A standard based on Tango has been developed, and is being ratified for use by all the other consortia.

The SKA’s Science Data Processor (SDP) team is designing the flow of data from the SKA correlator to individual astronomers. A group of Canadian universities and the CADC are working on the SDP design and implementation. The SDP underwent a design review at the beginning of 2015 and the requirements for the SDP are becoming concrete. Regional data centres will be used for the SKA, and discussions are beginning on the path toward establishing a Canadian (North American?) SKA data centre.

ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) coordinates activities and discussion on the SKA through the ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA (AACS). Four new members have been appointed to ACURA for 2016: Gregory Sivakoff (University of Alberta), Samar Safi-Harb (University of Manitoba), Dexter Jagula (SkyWatch) and David Stevens (MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates). ACURA thanks outgoing AACS members Jeroen Stil, Norbert Bartel, Brian Fry and Don Aldridge for their contributions. A listing of all members of AACS is available.

AACS meets several times per year, with its next meeting on April 21, 2016. For further information or to propose AACS agenda items, please contact the AACS Chair, Bryan Gaensler (bgaensler@dunlap.utoronto.ca).

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