Biostirling 4 SKA Project achieved final success!

Phased array approaches for the SKA such as LFAA and the future MFAA, functionally rely on significant pre-processing per observing station before combining all stations output in a central correlator.

Interestingly enough, while it appears that this reliance on significant pre-processing greatly increases the power needs, there are two mitigating aspects that work in advantage of this concept setting aside its huge observing capability. Addressing both the reduction of electrical costs and the generation and management of electricity at system level is paramount to avoid future inefficiencies and higher costs, while enabling fulfillments of Science Cases like Transient observations or other Virtual Observatory (VO) triggered observations whose operational modes may produce sudden peak power loads. In particular, since the (power hungry) data processing location is conditioned by the experiment, and not by the computational facilities, it results in far from optimal efficiency, higher capital expenditure (CAPEX) and higher Operational Costs (OPEX).

On the concept level the reliance on a “software telescope” such as the phased array concepts, reduces the number of stations as the collecting area per station is larger. Interestingly enough this reduces the requirements of the central processing units and hence of the corresponding power needs.

As of now, the station requires probably a higher power as a result of the pre-processing and aggregate needs of the receivers, and so this invites the need for a station level power solution. At the same time, this may reduce the costly copper requirement to the central processing when using fiber optic interconnect-and network solutions, which simultaneously increases radio interference and lightning (if any) effects.

Powering the stations for a system approach would be hugely beneficial for the conditions at the sites, appears therefore an appealing choice potentially positioning the SKA as a “green” telescope while reducing the operational costs and its carbon footprint. Such were the key arguments to advance innovative solutions that are being explored in the project, Biostirling, for SKA (“B4S”).

Aligned with the trend of renewable resources, the overall objective of the project was:

  1. i) to implement a cost effective and efficient new generation of solar dish-Stirling plant based on hybridisation and efficient storage at the industrial scale and,
  2. ii) to study compatibility of innovative power production units with the strict Radio interference requirements of modern radio telescopes and related radio astronomy SKA-like technologies.

Hence, at the system planning level, we must consider a combination of low-power computing, efficient data storage, local data services, Smart Grid power management, and potential inclusion of other non-grid sources like Renewable Energies in the form of heterogeneous system mix, and a heterogeneous power mix at provision level.

The Bio-Stirling-4SKA (B4SKA) Consortium, with fourteen companies from six European countries, led by Gonvarry (Spain) has performed the engineering, construction, assembly and experimental exploitation, under contract with the European Commission for the Seventh Framework Program (7FP) of a solar concentration system powering a set of demonstration astronomical EMBRACE – MFAA antennas installed in Contenda Forest (Moura, Portugal). The power provision developed a cost effective and efficient new generation of solar dish-Stirling plant based on hybridisation and efficient storage at the industrial scale, combining solar concentration, gas and batteries for night operations. The new plant achieved “first light” on 25th of April 2017, Freedom day in Portugal, by providing about 4kw of power to a set of EMBRACE – MFAA antenna tiles. Astronomical institutes were responsible for requirements, RFI measurements and deployment planning of the system. Besides the testing of dispatchability and compatibility with a radio astronomical system, B4S actually implemented the first world example of an hybrid concentrator engine, opening new avenues for further innovations of green autonomous radio astronomical systems with greater economic impact. See www.biostirling.com

Figure 2 – Deploying antennas and measurement gear, 25 metres away from the concentrator. We can see the power cable from the plant on the ground.

Figure 3 – Left: Overview of the B4SKA site, before installing test equipment. The antenna was installed at about 25 metre distance of the B4SKA solar concentrator. Right: The hybrid Stirling engine was installed which enabled us to operate the B4SKA also during the cloudy day.

Ciencia 2017 Meeting

SKA was featured prominently in the Ciência 2017 gathering in Portugal, the annual meeting of the Portuguese science and technology community. The meeting, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) brought together more than 3000 researchers, entrepreneurs, politicians, and invited participants from all sectors of society and personalities from main international research organisations like ESO, ESA, CERN and SKA, with other major institutions in attendance. Ciência 2017 was supported by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, and it was organised by FCT in collaboration with Ciência Viva – Agency for Science Education, and the Education and Science Committee of the Portuguese Parliament. This year India was the guest country featuring its main Space Science and Technology institutions.

Portuguese Science Minister Manuel Heitor inaugurating Ciência 2017

SKA had an invited session to provide a broad update to the Portuguese general audience. It was attended by astronomers, other scientists, policy makers, Portuguese government officials and the curious public. The SKA Director-General, Prof. Philip Diamond, opened the session with a broad highlight of the SKA scientific and programmatic timelines and the potential of Portuguese participation within the SKA. It was followed by several talks about Portuguese contributions, from the ENGAGE SKA Consortium, to Science with SKA Precursors like MeerKAT, up to technology challenges in ICT and Energy.

Minister Heitor (centre of the photo) experimenting the SKA Virtual Reality experience at the SKA stand during Ciência 2017

Later, SKA compute and cyber-infrastructures and its connections to main global infrastructures were also featured at the Ciencia 2017 InCODE 2020 sessions, the Portuguese agenda for digital inclusion and R&D Information and Communication Technologies.

Report provided by Domingos Barbosa