Canada

Canada has played a key role in both charting SKAO’s scientific ambitions, and pioneering the technology to make it possible. The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has led participation in the SKAO for Canadian academic and industry partners. It has played a lead role in developing technologies like the Mid-Correlator/beamformer and the cryogenic low noise amplifiers, which will be put to use in the operational phase.
Canada Telescopes
Pictured here is the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, one of two NRC sites which lead instrumentation development, in partnership with industry. Image credit: NRC

Canada was one of six founding members of the initial SKA consortium in 2000, and has maintained substantial involvement and engagement in the SKA project to date. SKA has consistently been ranked a top priority by the Canadian astronomical community in their decadal planning, including the most recent Canadian Astronomy Long Range Plan (LRP) . A cooperation agreement with the National Research Council of Canada, through to March 2023 will allow Canadian participation in the SKAO to continue while full membership in the observatory is under consideration. To learn more, visit: www.skatelescope.ca

Brief history of Canada’s involvement with the SKAO

Canada was one of the six countries that formed the initial SKA consortium in 2000, and has remained highly engaged through the SKA concept design and preparatory phase and now into construction.

Alongside Canadian scientific efforts, the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre has been working for more than ten years to develop key technologies for the SKA telescopes, with a focus on innovations that will have a high impact on scientific utility and potential use for the greater good of the Canadian economy.

These key technologies include:

  • Correlator/beamformer digital signal processing
  • Cryogenic low noise amplifiers
  • High-speed direct-conversion digitizers
  • Phased array feeds

In addition, the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) and a Canadian university consortium were both involved in the SKA science data processing (SDP) consortium.

Supporting the SKAO

In November 2021, the National Research Council of Canada signed a two-year cooperation agreement with the SKA Observatory, to enable Canadian science and technology contributions to continue to the project, while membership is given full consideration by the federal government. Canada appointed two observers to the intergovernmental organisation council.

Science Interest for Canada

Canadian astronomers are playing leading roles in designing the marquee SKA science programs[GW1] , including tests of gravity, low-frequency cosmology, cosmic magnetism, Dark Energy, and detecting transient systems, and have multi wavelength expertise in galaxy evolution, multi-messenger astronomy, and planetary system formation. Canadian astronomers participate in 11 of the 13 SKA science working groups and focus groups, and serve on the SKA Observatory’s Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC).

Building the SKAO

Under the current cooperation agreement, Canada is building the correlator/beamformer which will serve as the “brain” in the initial deployment of SKA’s mid-frequency telescope array (Array Assembly 0.5).

Canada continues to work in collaboration with SKAO partners on other elements of the so-called “signal chain” namely high-speed digitizers and low-noise amplifiers.

Canada is also involved in the SKA Regional Centre Network (SRCNet). This is an international effort to design, develop and operate a distributed interoperable network of regional centres to support the science exploitation of the SKA data. The activities of the SRCNet are overseen by a Steering Committee, and the design and prototyping work is organised into six working groups. Thirteen Canadian representatives from the National Research Council of Canada and universities serve on the Committee and its working groups.

Pathfinder Telescopes

As well as working on the SKA project itself, Canadian astronomers are developing a variety of new facilities and experiments aimed at testing the technology needed for the SKAO.

CHIME telescope
The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is an official pathfinder for SKA. Image Credit: UBC

Foremost amongst these is the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), a unique radio telescope which is making a three-dimensional map of the Dark Energy that is accelerating the expansion of the Universe. A Canadian researcher is also the lead investigator on POSSUM, one of nine large survey science projects being carried out by the SKA pathfinder ASKAP, and Canadians are heavily involved in many of the other formally designated SKA pathfinders and prototypes.

Developing New Technologies

Canada Team
The development team, from the National Research Council of Canada and MDA Ltd., who worked on the SKA1 Mid Correlator/Beamformer during the early bridging phase. Image credit: NRC

During the pre-construction phase, Canada was involved in several of the SKA design consortia, developing valuable technological contributions, including:

  • Central Signal Processor (CSP) consortium: The National Research Council of Canada, with assistance from industry partner MDA, led the CSP consortium, consisting in designing the correlators and beam formers, non-imaging pulsar search and timing processors. Learn more.
  • Dish Consortium: Canada contributed to the development of Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs), Radio Frequency Digitisers, and Phased-array Feeds (PAF). Partners included: Nanowave Technologies, the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Calgary. Learn more.
  • Science Data Processor (SDP) Consortium: Canada contributed to the UK-led SDP consortium by helping address the “grand data challenge” arising from the vast daily data volumes that will be processed by the SKA, from data delivery, to archive processing and access, to the data-processing pipeline and data visualization. Domestic partners included: CANARIE, Calgary Scientific, McGill University, the National Research Council of Canada’s Canadian Astronomy Data Centre, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, Rackforce. International partners included the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, South Africa and Australia. Learn more.
  • Telescope Manager Consortium: Building on experience from the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) project, the National Research Council of Canada participated in the design of the monitor and control system, and on interfaces to the SKA Telescope Manager. Learn more.

Impact Studies

Case study: What next generation data centres could learn from SKA

The SKA telescopes require very fast processing of enormous amounts of data – a common challenge, but pushed to the extreme. The National Research Council of Canada and MDA worked together to lead the design of the SKA Mid-Correlator/Beamformer (CBF). The CBF takes in wideband data from all 197 antennas and produces the visibilities needed to make astronomical images, as well as the data sums used to search for very fast astronomical transients and pulses. It will need to process data being transferred hundreds of thousands of times faster than average Canadian broadband download speeds – but at a fraction of the cost, power and heat generation. In a world that is increasingly dependent on using more data, faster, this sort of advanced high-efficiency processing is just what is needed for next-generation data centres, and many other applications across the digital world.

Talon board
The TALON-DX signal processing board, designed by the National Research Council of Canada (will be a major part of the “processing heart” of the SKA. Credit: NRC

Case study: What next generation data centres could learn from SKA

The SKA telescopes require very fast processing of enormous amounts of data – a common challenge, but pushed to the extreme. The National Research Council of Canada and MDA worked together to lead the design of the SKA Mid-Correlator/Beamformer (CBF). The CBF takes in wideband data from all 197 antennas and produces the visibilities needed to make astronomical images, as well as the data sums used to search for very fast astronomical transients and pulses. It will need to process data being transferred hundreds of thousands of times faster than average Canadian broadband download speeds – but at a fraction of the cost, power and heat generation. In a world that is increasingly dependent on using more data, faster, this sort of advanced high-efficiency processing is just what is needed for next-generation data centres, and many other applications across the digital world.

Case Study: What telecommunications and quantum computing might gain from SKA

Radio signals from astronomical sources are incredibly faint, so astronomers build huge sets of antennas, like the SKA, to gather and concentrate those signals so they can be detected.  But one still has to take these weak signals and amplify them, without adding a lot of unwanted noise in the process. The Low Noise Amplifiers (LNAs) developed by the National Research Council of Canada for the SKA project, currently in use on the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, are several times better than pre-SKA state-of-the-art LNAs and introduce 10 to 1000 times less unwanted noise than commercial satellite-communication LNAs. This technology has potential application in diverse areas, from telecommunications to quantum computing.

Industry

The digital economy relies on processing and transmitting vast amounts of data both quickly and cheaply. Canada’s major technological contributions to the SKA project address these challenges, and will open commercialisation opportunities for Canadian companies across a range of industrial sectors.

Already, the National Research Council of Canada has actively engaged industry through design phase sub-contracts, project and data management services as well as material and equipment design and construction of the telescope dish, computer hardware and software systems. Canadian companies involved in this technology design work since 2015 include MDAIntelNanowaveCanadian CircuitsRackforce (now TeraGo), and SED Systems (now Calian, Advanced Technologies). Learn more.

News from Canada

Contact

  • Michael Rupen Observer, SKAO Council, and Director, Radio Astronomy Directorate, National Research Council of Canada
  • Kristine Spekkens Member of SKAO’s Science and Engineering Advisory Council; Canadian SKA Science Director; Member of the ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA; and Professor, Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University
On this page
Last modified on 30 June 2022