The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a multinational science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Experts from more than a dozen countries are working together on one of the most complex science projects ever conceived to design this next generation radio telescope that will expand our understanding of the universe and drive technological development worldwide. Australia and South Africa will each host different SKA components.
The overall project design is by nine consortia made up of experts from government organisations, research institutes, and industry.
Aurecon, in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), formed the Infrastructure Australia consortium to design the entire site infrastructure, power distribution, and the Central Supercomputing Building for the SKA site in Australia. In South Africa, Aurecon is also delivering project manager and design engineer services for the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope.
Aurecon and CSIRO have worked together for more than 30 years and the current SKA infrastructure project continues our previous successful delivery of world class infrastructure for the SKA precursor, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.
Designing the SKA infrastructure has been immensely challenging due to the unusual constraints required to support such a sensitive radio telescope in outback Australia in a way that does not interfere with the radio signals coming from the Universe.
The Central Supercomputing Building for the SKA telescope is a unique facility with the primary function of protecting the radio quiet environment at the remote site.
Aurecon in partnership with CSIRO developed the building design to include a fully welded, double shielded enclosure to prevent the signals from the vast array or electronic and electrical equipment contained inside the building from interfering with the sensitive receiving antennas outside.
The building is designed to be pre-fabricated and brought to site in modules as an optimum logistics solution for the site’s remote location. This method will keep site labour costs within budget and minimise the potential quality risks associated with remote building construction.
The design of the building was optimised and modelled in Building Information Modelling (BIM) software to give the client and stakeholders the ability to ‘walkthrough’ the building in a virtual environment. This allowed testing and amendments to the building’s components, useability and layouts in real time.
The infrastructure designed for the site covers a 40 km radius and includes roads and tracks, fibre and power distribution, communications, site monitoring, and buildings.
Ground preparation for the antennas and the road designs will utilise construction techniques consistent with general practice in the Murchison area. Cleared areas are kept to a minimum, and existing tracks or previous routes will be retained as far as possible to minimise disturbance to vegetation and the natural lay of the land.
Aurecon is the project manager for the Infrastructure Australia consortium and maintains the budget and programme for all design packages.
Significant challenges are navigated with stakeholders that include government agencies, engineers, scientists and project managers across the globe, delivering nine work packages in parallel. A clear communication and interfacing strategy is enabling the successful delivery of each work package.
Infrastructure design for the SKA is nearing completion with construction expected to begin in 2021.
To hear more about the project listen to this ABC RN Interview with CSIRO’s SKA Infrastructure Consortium Director, Antony Schinckel.
Images courtesy of SKA Organisation.