Software firm born from SKAO construction opportunities

Portuguese software company Atlar Innovation has grown from a SKA spin-off to an established specialist firm boasting contracts with the Portuguese Ministry of Defence.

Atlar has its roots in the EngageSKA consortium, which provides a higher education pathway for talented academics in Portugal to get involved with building the SKA telescopes.

Atlar CEO Hélder Ribeiro and a number of his colleagues from institutions including the University of Aveiro and University of Porto were involved in the software bridging period during the SKA design process – a period during which they worked to identify possible risks ahead of the construction phase.

This invaluable experience leant him the knowledge and confidence to spin out Atlar and successfully bid for a SKA construction contract in 2021: the biggest awarded in Portugal at a value of around €1.8m.

Atlar now employs 15 people, five of whom are dedicated to SKA software development, and also hosts several postgraduate placements, giving students valuable experience of working in industry and the possibilities offered by major international projects like the SKAO.

It’s quite simple: the company would not exist without the SKA – it was born from big science. It gave us the stability to continue and our people have learned so much that now we are able to gain more projects

Author of quote:Hélder RibeiroAtlar CEO

The company is actively helping to develop an advanced web-based software suite resembling an online dashboard that will give a real-time overview of SKA’s 197 dishes and 131,072 antennas.

The system can be used to check whether the telescopes are working properly, detect issues, test movement and process signals.

A further benefit of this software is that it can also be used by separate SKA teams – those building the Central Signal Processor or the Pulsar Search System, for example – to simulate and test their own software.

Atlar's other contracts encompass space infrastructures including radars and telescopes used by the European Space Agency to monitor the whereabouts of space debris.

Atlar's success is a reminder that building the SKA isn’t only about constructing the telescopes or about doing fundamental research.

Contracts for hardware components, software development, computing and infrastructure are being awarded globally, and create tangible societal and economic benefits for participating countries through job creation and skills development.

ATLAR CEO Hélder Ribeiro during a visit to the SKAO Global Headquarters and, right, ATLAR's logo
Atlar CEO Hélder Ribeiro during a visit to the SKAO Global Headquarters in the UK