Astrocompute in the Cloud- International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
The data processing needs of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) present a significant challenge and opportunity for the project.
The SKA Science Data Processor (SDP) is expected to process up to 1 terabyte per second of data and create around 200-300 petabytes of data products each year. The SDP element of the SKA focuses on the design of the computing platforms, software and algorithms needed to process data from the correlator into science data products.
The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has been closely investigating Cloud computing as a means of addressing the SKA data storage and processing capabilities required by the international user community. Cloud computing refers to the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than a local server or personal computer. Due to the large amounts of data, it was acknowledged early in the design process that a single data centre with a limited power budget was insufficient to process and analyse the data needed.
Realizing the huge potential offered by one of the largest public science Big Data projects in the world, Amazon Web Services (AWS) established a grant program to support international radio astronomy research. The program, Astrocompute in the Cloud, is administered by the SKA’s project headquarters in the United Kingdom. Following a call for proposals in April 2015, ICRAR-led proposals were successfully awarded more than $50,000 under the program, which was around a quarter of the total funds available.
The data pipeline of the SKA’s Science Data Processor will be a complex network producing petabytes of information yearly. Image Credit: ICRAR/Peter Ryan
Cloud environments are changing the way software and workflows are designed. These usage patterns are closely monitored by Cloud providers who are eager to cater for Big Data analytics. As such, the SKA, and in particular the SDP, is at the cutting edge of this rapidly increasing multi-billion dollar market.
Balance Utility Solutions
The SKA will have significant power requirements that must be delivered at remote locations in mid-west Western Australia.
Supported under the Australian SKA Pre-construction Grants Program, Balance Utility Solutions are working with Curtin University to understand and deliver the power requirements for the Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) component of the SKA. The LFAA refers to the set of antennas, on board amplifiers and local processors which are required to receive signals from the lowest frequency band for the SKA. A major challenge for the consortium is the sheer scale of work to be undertaken with well over a hundred thousand antennas to be built in Australia to exact specifications.
Balance Utility Solutions seeks to service the growing market for integrated and sustainable energy solutions. They have considerable experience working on the development and delivery of large scale energy infrastructure projects.
The company has greatly assisted Curtin University in examining the feasibility of novel LFAA power solutions, and in developing an optimum power distribution strategy. In particular, the work has demonstrated that using an alternating current in power reticulation to LFAA core stations, with medium voltage direct current at the stations, is the preferred solution in terms of cost, efficiency and radio quietness. In addition it was found that stand alone solar stations were a practical and efficient approach to supplying power to remote LFAA stations.
AAVS1 array power distribution control unit (developed by Balance Utility Solutions) unboxed and under EMC test in the ICRAR/Curtin anechoic chamber. Credit: Curtin/ICRAR.
Balance is now working on the design of power systems for an LFAA prototype with Curtin, including the design and prototyping of the LFAA station power distributor.
Balance CEO Rod Hayes says “working on the SKA alongside Curtin University and ICRAR has created unique opportunities for Balance technical staff and the business and has positively assisted in broadening Balance’s capabilities, especially in the area of highly distributed low power, low-cost, radio-quiet inverters.”
Directional drilling activities at the MRO designed to route optical fibre to the MRO Control Building while complying with indigenous heritage requirements. Credit: Curtin/ICRAR.
The company has worked closely with the University throughout the SKA Pre-construction Stage, with Balance also providing training opportunities for Curtin students. This has included the placement of a PhD student currently working with the company.
Innovation Composites, a company based in Nowra, NSW, is a precision composites and fibreglass manufacturer. They have expertise that has evolved from the marine industry into a broader spectrum of work.
CSIRO is working with Innovation Composites to develop and produce radio frequency interference (RFI)-shielded, high-strength, weather-proof and insulated casings for ASKAP’s PAF receivers that are lighter and more cost-effective than previous designs.
To house the PAF receivers, installed on ASKAP antennas, the design must integrate a number of functional requirements into a single part robust enough to endure the extreme climate and remote nature of the MRO.
The company works closely with CSIRO engineers to develop and manufacture a bespoke design that will meet the special requirements demanded by the working environment of ASKAP. Success was achieved through applying the specialist production knowledge of Innovation Composites to the challenge of radio frequency interference – a well-known obstacle in radio astronomy.
The PAF casing design incorporates marine composites technology to manage structural loading, thermal insulation and environmental protection in a single part. The casing uses a multi-skin foam-cored composite design with both glass-fibre and carbon-fibre reinforcement.
The carbon-fibre will also provide a level of RFI shielding, isolating the ASKAP receivers’ internal electronics from the radio-quiet atmosphere of the MRO – home to CSIRO's ASKAP telescope.
The design also demonstrates how the application of industrial skills from disparate fields can be applied to problems in the construction of instruments for advanced science.
A project on the scale of ASKAP relies on industry providing expertise in production, construction, installation and commissioning to demanding requirements. Such a project also introduces technical challenges that must be overcome in the design and construction of the telescope’s components.
Advanced high-performance PAF receivers mounted on ASKAP antennas will produce an instantaneous and wide field-of-view using simultaneous electronic beams.
CSIRO is working with Puzzle Precision to jointly develop and produce sophisticated electronic circuit boards and major components for ASKAP's digital systems. Puzzle Precision is a high-reliability electronic assembly service provider based in Newcastle, NSW. The high quality and accurate assembly and inspection service provided used by Puzzle Precision ensures large scale delivery of intricate and complex electronics boards for ASKAP.
What first started as a handful of simple boards assembled for CSIRO’s Compact Array Broadband Backend (CABB) project has now grown to thousands of units of complex boards and mechanical assemblies. These form part of ASKAP’s innovative PAF receivers and associated digital systems. Achieving exceptionally high yield on these cutting edge, high-volume, printed circuit boards is crucial to the project’s success.
The ability of Puzzle Precision to meet the stringent demands of ASKAP demonstrates how small industry partners can provide industry-specific expertise to meet the requirements of highly technical equipment.
The relationship with CSIRO and the ASKAP team have contributed to the expanded production base of the company. Australian capability in the production of mission critical, highly reliable electronics has also been enhanced.
Thermacore Europe (via JHC Specialised Solutions)
The second generation (Mk II) ASKAP receiver – or PAF – includes a requirement to maintain a low and stable temperature. This is crucial for system performance and reliability. A custom-designed groundplane has been developed to minimise temperature gradients and maintain predictable temperature uniformity across the highly sensitive electronics over the course of long observations. This uniformity ensures a highly accurate signal is received by the telescope, minimising distortion of the processed image. The overall efficiency of the heat management system is a major contributor to ASKAP power consumption and operating costs, especially in a remote location such as the MRO.
Thermacore Europe is a world-leader in the field of passive thermal management systems. They specialise in the custom design, development and manufacture of highly-engineered components. CSIRO has engaged with Thermacore, via local agents JHC Specialised Solutions, to design and prototype the Mk II PAF groundplane. The groundplane will be a bespoke design with features and characteristics that meet strict ASKAP specifications, including requirements for thermal and electrical conductivity, operating and storage temperatures, manufacturability and repeatability.
The ASKAP groundplane features embedded heat pipes for thermal management. The pipes, designed by Thermacore, are based on specifications developed and provided by CSIRO. Through modelling, simulation, prototyping and evaluation, the thermal ground plans were developed in close collaboration to ensure the precise specifications of ASKAP were met. This collaboration led to a tested and validated solution proven to meet the complex groundplane specifications.