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SKA Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) Consortium completes planning work

The international engineering consortium tasked with planning the assembly, integration and verification (AIV) of the SKA has formally completed its work in another important engineering step towards construction of the telescope.

Published by the editorial team, 4 July 2019

The AIV Consortium, led by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), was responsible for detailing the integration & verification process for the SKA’s low-frequency telescope (SKA-low) in Australia and mid-frequency telescope (SKA-mid) in South Africa.

Based on the principle of integrating early and often, the consortium has set out how and when the many different telescope components from all over the world will arrive and be put together at both the SKA sites. The approach that was followed allows the AIV team to identify problems at an early stage and thereby mitigate risks as early and efficiently as possible.

ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy was involved in the AIV Consortium for the planning, cost and health & safety and test procedures of SKA-low. “ASTRON’s knowledge of and experience with the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope was crucial to the planning and testing of the SKA-low system” says Nico Ebbendorf Head of the ASTRON Technical Support Group.

Planning the integration of South Africa’s SKA precursor telescope MeerKAT into SKA-mid was another key part of this work.  All of the interfaces between MeerKAT components and SKA-mid components had to be identified and described.  “With MeerKAT we’re talking about 64 dishes that are already operational, with a different design to the SKA dishes, so it’s a huge challenge,” said Peter Hekman, SKA Engineering Project Manager for AIV. “Integration isn’t just about plugging things in and pressing ‘go’, it’s about ensuring components developed and manufactured by different teams all over the world fit together correctly, communicate, and behave seamlessly as one telescope.”

The consortium’s verification planning work includes all the activities that are required to integrate the hardware and software components designed by the SKA’s other engineering consortia into a cohesive instrument that meets the system requirements, so that the SKA’s ambitious science goals can be achieved. 

The sheer scale and complexity of the SKA made AIV planning at an early stage essential.

“We’ll have 130,000 antennas in Western Australia and nearly 200 dishes in South Africa, so we don’t want to assemble and integrate everything and then discover something crucial is missing, or doesn’t work as we expected it to,” said Richard Lord, AIV Consortium Lead at SARAO. “We’ve learned lessons from other telescopes about how challenging and risky it can be to the project if issues are identified too late, and how this can snowball into delays in deployment and increase in cost. Planning AIV roll-out activities now gives us the best possible preparation for procurement and construction.”

SARAO worked with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), all of which brought recent experience of carrying out AIV on radio telescopes, including SKA precursor and pathfinder instruments.

“The process of planning how to verify a radio telescope is not just about writing test procedures.  It is a journey of discovery, one that explores the most efficient way to roll out a complex system, so that risks are mitigated as early as possible,” added Richard.  “It is a journey that touches all aspects of the design.  And most of all, it is a journey of communication, of creating a common goal and a common vision, so that everybody involved feels invested in the process, and can be equally proud when things come together.”

The work completed by the AIV Consortium will now form an essential part of the overall System Critical Design Review (CDR) later this year, which will ensure that all the different design elements of the SKA are in line with each other.

“This small consortium has moved mountains in terms of the amount of preparation done for both SKA telescopes – I want to sincerely thank them for their efforts,” Peter Hekman concludes. “After System CDR their work will really begin to pay dividends, as we put these plans into action with the construction of the SKA.”

Learn more about AIV and its fellow consortia on the SKA’s engineering design website.

About the engineering design

The AIV consortium was formed in late 2013 as one of 12 international engineering consortia tasked with designing the SKA, a global effort representing hundreds of organisations and 500 engineers in 20 countries. Nine consortia focused on core elements, while three developed advanced instrumentation for the telescope. The nine consortia are now going through their critical design reviews, where an expert panel examines each design proposal against the SKA’s stringent requirements.

Now that its work is complete the AIV consortium formally disbands, although the SKA Organisation will work closely with participating countries to prepare for the overall System CDR and the development of the SKA construction proposal.

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA will be constructed in Australia and South Africa; with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.

Already supported by 13 national members – Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions in the design and development of the telescope.

Read more about the SKA’s Critical Design Reviews

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