An international consortium of computing specialists, led by the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, has completed the engineering design work of the Science Data Processor (SDP) for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Telescope, to the level required for a Critical Design Review (CDR).
The role of the SDP consortium was to design the computing hardware platforms, software, and algorithms needed to process science data into science data products (astronomical images). The SKA SDP will be composed of two supercomputers, one located in Cape Town, South Africa to process data from SKA-Mid, and one in Perth, Western Australia, to process data from SKA-Low.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) scientists, as well as SARAO-funded industry, have been members of the SDP Consortium since the approval of the concept design review in 2012. SARAO’s Technical Lead for Scientific Computing, Simon Ratcliffe, was selected as the SDP Consortium System Engineer in 2012, and SARAO System Engineer, Shagita Gounden, was appointed to the SDP Consortium on a full-time basis to work on the control and monitoring component of the SDP – the system that allows sub-elements within the SDP to communicate with each other, as well as with external elements such as the Telescope Manager and the Central Signal Processor. In addition to SARAO’s contribution, South Africa’s Space Advisory Company (SAC) and Eclipse Holdings, who were awarded funding from SARAO’s Financial Assistance Programme (FAP), seconded four engineers to the SDP consortium. As part of this effort, SAC’s Data Processing System Engineer, Ferdl Graser, was appointed as the SDP Consortium System Engineer in 2014, and has distinguished himself in this role, culminating in the recently passed Critical Design Review.
The CSIR Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) are other South African members of the SDP Consortium. The CHPC provides compute platform testing and innovation services, by leveraging the significant compute resources it has available, while UCT provides the lead of the SDP delivery work-package through Professor Rob Simmonds, from the Department of Computer Science, as well as supporting the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy.
SARAO Managing Director, Dr Rob Adam, congratulated the SKA SDP Consortium on passing the Critical Design Review and said he was proud of the world-class design work completed by SARAO system engineers, which will contribute to the SKA’s ability to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail. “The unique requirements for the SDP have also driven our specialists to be creative and design unique technologies that allows SARAO to contribute to economic development and commercialisation in South Africa.”
SARAO will continue to play an important role in the SKA bridging phase, during the lead up to construction of the SKA SDP. Through an extension of the FAP programme, five industry-based engineers, as well as three SARAO employed engineers, will work with international computing specialists to develop and construct the SDP.