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Major upgrade of International LOFAR Telescope approved

The ILT Board has approved the order for the LOFAR2.0 upgrade of all 52 stations plus 2 additional stations of the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT), plus spare parts. A total of € 10 million investment goes to orders at the Dutch companies Neways, Major Electronics, Variass, and Batenburg Industriële Elektronica.

Published by the editorial team, 7 February 2023

The International LOFAR Telescope (ILT) is comprised of several stations consisting of dozens of LBA (low band) and HBA (high band) antennas and is currently the largest radio telescope in the world, operating at the lowest frequencies that can be observed from earth. The telescope consists of tens of thousands of antennas in total, collectively observing the galaxy, and is a collaboration between ten countries: the Netherlands (38 stations), Germany (six stations), Poland (three stations), France, Ireland, Latvia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (one station each), with new additional stations expected soon in Italy and Bulgaria.  

 At the time of construction, the system provided observation options of either the LBA or HBA antennas at any given time (the LBA antennas observe at a frequency ranging from 10 to 80 MHz; the HBA antennas observe at a frequency ranging from 110 to 240 MHz). The LOFAR2.0 upgrade enables the telescope to use all LBA and HBA antennas simultaneous expanding the field-of-view and sensitivity of the stations. A new digital processing board will replace the existing boards enabling to process the increased amount of data that LOFAR2.0 will produce. Finally, at the Dutch LOFAR stations the distributed clock system will be replaced by a central clock signal distributed via a White Rabbit optical fibre network.

Most hardware manufactured by Dutch companies 

An important part of the LOFAR2.0 upgrade is a hardware upgrade of all LOFAR stations. The largest part of these hardware upgrades will be ordered at the Dutch companies Neways (Leeuwarden), Major Electronics (Hoogeveen), Variass (Veendam), and Batenburg Industriële Elektronica (Neede). 

Neways will manufacture the new digital processing boards UniBoard2. This board uses the latest generation of FPGA’s (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) and makes the LOFAR radio telescope suitable for processing more data and also to do this more quickly. The Uniboard2 forms the heart of the LOFAR2.0 telescope and performing very complex processes. 

Major Electronics will manufacture three modules for the new LOFAR2.0 system. The company from Hoogeveen will be responsible for producing the CCD (Cabinet Clock Distribution) Module, LMP (LOFAR Mid-Plane) board and the APSPU (Antenna Processing Subrack Power Unit) Module.  

This new system also demands a higher-than-average quality of the Printed Circuit Board Assemblies (PCBA’ s). Therefore, the newest AOI (Automated Optical Inspection) device will be used to check every PCBA on the quality of the component assembly. Furthermore, these PCBAs will undergo extensive testing before final installation and operations. 

For Major Electronics manufacturing these PCBAs is an opportunity to show that even complicated modules can be produced by a local manufacturer. By using high-tech SMD (Surface Mount Device) machines and Selective Wave Soldering technique, the quality of these modules will be the highest possible. 

Variass will manufacture the receiver modules (RCU2) for the telescope, 6,000 pieces in total. The LBA and HBA antennas each have different types of receivers: RCU2L and RCU2H respectively. The RCU’s amplify the antenna signals and allow astronomers to select specific frequency ranges. 

After the analogue signal amplification and filtering, the signal is digitized by the analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) and is sent to the Uniboard2 for further signal processing via the LMP Module. Each RCU2 module handles three antenna signals individually. 

Batenburg Industriële Elektronica is responsible for the manufacturing of the APSCT modules (Antenna Processor Subrack Clock distribution and Translator). These modules distribute the highly accurate and stable station clock to the various modules inside the station sub-rack. Batenburg Industriële Elektronica was also involved with the development of the APSCT module by the manufacturing of the first prototypes and will produce over 200 modules for LOFAR2.0. 

Production and delivery of the modules is expected by the end of 2023 and will also take place during the first half of 2024. 



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