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Electronics on the world’s largest radio telescope are more radio-quiet than a smartphone on the moon

The electronics on the world’s largest radio telescope are quieter in terms of radio interference than a smartphone on the moon.

Twenty-four prototype PaSD SMART boxes ready to be installed at the SKA site. Image Credit: ICRAR

In a groundbreaking endeavor that’s got science aficionados buzzing, a dynamic squad of researchers, engineers, and tech whizzes have unveiled their magnum opus – a “SMART box” that’s set to electrify the world’s most colossal radio telescope.

Cue the dramatic entrance of the Power and Signal Distribution (PaSD) SMART boxes, short for Small Modular Aggregation RFoF Trunk. These pint-sized powerhouses are the beating heart of the Square Kilometer Array Low frequency (SKA-Low) telescope, a colossal cosmic curiosity currently unfurling its marvels at the Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, also known as the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, nestled in the enigmatic landscapes of Western Australia.

So, what do these SMART boxes bring to the cosmic table, you ask? Well, hold onto your space helmets, because they’re the electrical lifeline for the SKA-Low’s jaw-dropping assembly of 131,072 antennas. These tech wonders not only juice up those antennas but also scoop up celestial signals like cosmic candy, whisking them off-site for some mind-boggling processing.

The creative genius behind this technological ballet is none other than the Engineering & Operations brain trust over at the Curtin University node of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). These visionary pioneers have sculpted the inaugural set of 24 SMART boxes over an epic 10-year odyssey.

Tom Booler, the maestro of this cosmic symphony, and Program Lead for Engineering and Operations at ICRAR, dishes out the inside scoop. He reveals that these SMART boxes, unlike any other gizmos, have to hobnob with the antennas themselves, crafting an engineering challenge of galactic proportions.

With palpable excitement, Booler explains, “The SKA-Low telescope will play celestial matchmaker, hooking us up with those exceedingly faint signals that’ve been on a cosmic Tinder journey for billions of years.”

But here’s the cosmic twist – this telescope, it’s a diva that demands silence. It’s situated in a radio-quiet nirvana, far from the cacophony of modern tech interference. And guess what’s potentially the loudest neighbor? Yep, you guessed it, our own electronics, like these SMART boxes, thanks to their cozy proximity to the antennas.

So, Booler and his cosmic crew embarked on a quest, seeking out these elusive “radio quiet” parts that whisper instead of shouting interference. They tossed out the rowdy, noisy ones and cradled the hush-hush ones in a specially tailored case, ensuring no radio waves dare escape.

The grand moment of truth came in South Africa at an electromagnetic testing chamber, where the SMART boxes underwent a baptism of sorts. And guess what? They aced the “radio quiet” exam with flying colors. Booler’s grin stretches to light years as he beams, “These SMART boxes set the gold standard for radio astronomy. You know, a mobile phone on the moon? It’d create more buzz around the antennas than these SMART boxes.”

But here’s the meteoric kicker: a juicy contract, worth its astronomical weight in gold, recently found its way to Perth-based juggernauts, AVI. They’re tasked with crafting a staggering 12,000 SMART boxes, a game-changing deal that catapults them into the SKA-Low stratosphere. It’s a mega-deal, the grandest in all of Australia’s SKA construction escapades, making the Australian Government’s decade-long SKA pre-construction investment pay off in spades.

Booler caps it off with a cosmic smile, gushing about the SMART boxes being born and bred right here in Western Australia, a stellar testament to Australia’s sovereign prowess in the cosmic sandbox, one that could fuel our celestial aspirations for eons to come.

And as Tony Routledge, the maestro of AVI, humbly echoes, “This SKA gig? It’s like the universe handed us the ultimate backstage pass. We’ve been crafting hardcore electronic wizardry for over three decades, and now, the cosmos is our stage. We’re here for the wild ride, eager to unlock the secrets the radio telescope holds.”

Buckle up, Earthlings, because with SMART boxes like these, the cosmos is about to spill its cosmic beans, and we’re all aboard the space-age rollercoaster of discovery.

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