Duct Tape and Glass

After talking about this place for the last three years, it’s great to finally be here!  I’m in the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) located (unsurprisingly) in the Murchison Shire, North-East of Geraldton, Western Australia  – future site of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and current home the the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).

Me taking some photos

I have some help as ‘team photographer’ from one of the students Kim Steele, who snapped this pic of me playing with the ICRAR cameras.

Following on from my boss’s (Pete Wheeler: http://petewheeler.wordpress.com/) trip up here to lay down all the mesh for the MWA, I’m with two of ICRAR’s engineers to help supervise our ‘student army’ and construct the spidery dipoles of the MWA. 7 of our students (most of them ex Summer Studentship students) have been lucky enough to make the trip with us as a neat twist on winter break work. I’ll be keeping track of my trip to the MRO through this blog with some videos and lots of photos!

Quick rest break on the red dirt road

Quick rest stop on the red dirt road, almost in the Murchison. (Photo Kim Steele)

We left Perth bright and early yesterday morning to drive a dog-legged route almost directly up to the MRO in a convoy with student army personnel carrier (otherwise known as a mini bus) and four wheel drive with extra-long trailer. Our destination was Wooleen Station, our accommodation for the two week trip.

Driver's eye view

The trip to the Murchison was long but punctuated by cries of ‘windmill’ during our intense game of ‘Windmill Spotto’. (Photo Kim Steele)

Wild emus on the way up. (Photo Kim Steele)

The trip up was mostly uneventful until we were about 40 km out from Wooleen Station – then an errant rock bounced off the trailer and smashed in the rear window of the student army personnel carrier, leading to a few surprised noises and a shower of glass over our luggage.  This led to a roadside repair using a picnic blanket so we could limp the remaining distance to Wooleen.

The poor bus window the next morning (Photo Kim Steele)

We effected more reliable repairs the next morning using some duct tape and spare black plasti, hoping to make it until we could head to Geraldton early next week for a more permanent fix.

Patching up the mini bus

The morning on site was spent on safety and cultural inductions, checking out the area and working out our plan of attack for the actual construction.  Our goal is to put together all 4,096 antennas and then attach them to the previously-laid mesh in groups of 16 crossed dipoles (so 32 antennas per tile) and maybe even connect up the electronic boxes called ‘beam formers’ provided they arrive at the MRO on time! Funnily enough, beam formers form the telescope’s beams on the sky, which allows the collection of radio waves that astronomers can study. All this is not a small ask for 10 people and two weeks, but we’re firmly optimistic that we can do it!

ICRAR Engineer Brian Crosse explains an MWA antenna tile to the student army. This tile is left over from the 32 tile prototype MWA, most of which is dismantled and sitting in a big pile next to the MWA office.

By the end of the day, after all our setting up, briefings and waiting around for a truck to arrive, we’ve finished one crossed dipole (counts as two antennas). Well, WE haven’t. Technically it was engineer Brian demonstrating how we’ll be putting everything together tomorrow that built it, but we’re proud anyway!

Dipole number 1! (and technically 2) (Photo by Jarrod Ramsdale)

Day 1 Summary

Antenna Count: 2/4096
Completed MWA Tiles: 0/128
Beam formers installed: 0/128 (0 on site)


About Kirsten Gottschalk

Outreach and Education Officer at The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). I was lucky enough to join our engineers and 'student army' to build a good share of the Murchison Widefield Array, the low frequency precursor to the Square Kilometre Array on the future SKA site in WA. All images and content on this blog are copyright, unless otherwise attributed. If you'd like to use any of my photos, send me an email and I'd be happy to help - kirsten.gottschalk@icrar.org

5 responses to “Duct Tape and Glass

  1. Tiki Swain

    Ohmigosh. 10 of you and two weeks and 4,096 antennae? I seriously wish you a lot of luck, and no more speed than you need (so as to avoid hasty mistakes and having to do anything over again).

  2. Pia Steele

    glad you all made it in one piece! 🙂

  3. Bob

    Bob [Kim’s Dad 🙂 ],

    Way to go Mo [that would be Kim], We see that you have taken the odd photo or two as well. Good luck with the build to all of you!

    Very proud Mo… very proud 🙂

    PS China got a high distinction in one of her exams and a credit in the other 🙂
    PSS Bloody wiz kids 😉

  4. Simon David

    Thanks for keeping us informed. Enjoyed reading and was educational

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Copyright Notice

All images and content on this blog is copyright. I'd be happy to help you out if you want to use any text or images that I've produced, simply send me an email - kirsten.gottschalk@icrar.org - and we can chat about it.
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