Our Research & Development (R&D) department handles the technical facilities to enable astronomical research. Research & Development does research. develops and realises world class radio telescopes. Innovative instruments are created for existing telescopes. New technologies are developed for future observing facilities.
Moving the frontier in astronomy science requires new powerful telescopes and upgrades of existing telescopes. The Research and Development department delivers innovative technology for a broad range of world class radio telescopes. Examples are the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT). Innovation at ASTRON is a collaborative process with other scientific institutes and industry. These innovations have also a major impact on our economy and society. Big data solutions, photonics and radio technology find their way into our daily lives. Examples are Wifi and medical imaging.
The engineering process
Creating new instruments often starts with the astronomers aiming to understand new science questions. Technology trends can also trigger the creation of new instrument concepts. These ideas may subsequently lead to a particular prototype or an instrument through a well-defined systems engineering process. We often invite our national and international partners such as universities, research institutes and industry to collaborate in this process.
More than 60 people are working in the R&D department, organised in 6 Competence Groups. Each group consists of highly trained professionals with expertise and experience relevant for that specific group. These 6 groups work closely together on the achievement of the innovative technical goals of the various projects.
Developing a radio telescope
Signals from the universe are collected by antennas. They need filtering of undesired signals like Digital Audio (DAB) and satellites. All these man-made signals are called Radio Frequency Interference (or RFI).
After amplification, the signals are digitised. The digital signals are combined with dedicated algorithms in signal processing hardware and firmware. Simulation and modelling is an essential part of the design work.
To turn these large amounts of raw measurements into meaningful astronomical data products efficient algorithms and cutting-edge computational platforms need to be developed. The algorithms are required to calibrate the system, but also to deal with disturbances in the ionosphere.
Industrial and instrumental mechanical development, production and prototyping is required for the antennas, cooling technology for electronics and design for long lifetime in harsh environments.
Practical expertise, experience and in-house facilities are available for supporting the realisation of the technical projects.
Import elements in this R&D process are System Engineering and Project Management. Systems Engineering keeps track of the requirements on a new system and the interfaces between systems to ensure that we build the system that the astronomer needs. Project management organises the activities to deliver the required results in budget and time.