China unveils state-of-the-art radio telescope

Business & Technology

An international group of researchers — hailing from 10 member countries, including China, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and others, but with the U.S. notably absent — had good reason to celebrate on February 6 in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province.

There, representatives of The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project unveiled the first of several prototypes of what will eventually be a system of over 130 radio telescopes around the world. The telescopes will work in tandem to “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,” according to the SKA’s press release.

The 15-meter-in-diameter prototype in Shijiazhuang, which will now undergo at least six months of testing, Science Magazine reports, and a second prototype will soon be shipped to South Africa for concurrent testing. Both machines are primarily designed by the 54th Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC54), but contain components from many other countries:

  • Germany: Precise hardware and electronics.
  • Italy: “Design and production of the feed indexer, an electro-mechanical component that will support the various receivers and move them into position to align them with the optics of the dish when required.”
  • Canada: “Hardware that digitizes the signals recorded with each of the five receivers.”
  • France: Software “expertise to digitize high frequency signals.”
  • South Africa: Overall system engineering.