Australia and India space collaboration to strengthen in coming years, says Dr Yashwant Gupta

Australia and India are collaborating on building the world's largest radio telescope known as the Square Kilometre Array.

Australia-India relations today have moved beyond the three C’s (Curry, Cricket and Commonwealth) and encompass a broad range of sectors including space technology. As part of our National Science Week coverage in Australia (13th-21st August) we spoke to the Director of NCRA (National Centre for Radio Astrophysics) in India, Dr Yashwant Gupta, who is one of the key Indian scientists collaborating with his Australian counterparts in this sector.

Dr Yashwant Gupta – 2nd from Left (Image source: Supplied)

The NCRA is involved in the building of the Square Kilometre Array Telescope project which involves collaboration between Australia, India and several other countries. The NCRA is part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

Hundreds of thousands and eventually up to a million low-frequency antennas will be located in Western Australia (Image Source: SKA CC BY 3.0)

Square Kilometre Array Telescope Project

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The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition.

Both South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire were chosen as co-hosting locations for many scientific and technical reasons, from the atmospherics above the sites, through to the radio quietness, which comes from being some of the most remote locations on Earth. India is one of the member countries in the SKA organisation and is involved in the design and operation of SKA (phase I)

Logo of SKA India. According to the designers, “The logo resembles a simple three antenna radio interferometric telescope with feeds on the top, also conveys a message ‘let us come together and join hands and chase our dream’. Together we can make it India’s most successful scientific endeavour.” (Image Source: NCRA Website)

One of the fundamental parts of this project is the ‘Telescope Manager’ (TM). The Telescope Manager element includes all hardware and software necessary to control the telescope and associated infrastructure. The TM includes the co-ordination of the systems at observatory level and the software necessary for scheduling the telescope operations. It also includes the central monitoring of key performance metrics and the provision of central co-ordination of safety signals generated by Elements of the SKA. The TM provides physical and software access to, and at, remote locations for transmission of diagnostic data and local control.

Dr Yashwant Gupta (Image source: Supplied)

Dr Gupta leads the TM consortium which involves the collaboration of nine institutions from seven countries including Australia’s CSIRO and India’s TCS Research and Innovation along with NCRA.

The NCRA also operates the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India which has been at the forefront of making significant discoveries. Most recently it discovered the oldest known fossil radio galaxy in the Universe.

In an exclusive interview with The Australia Today, Dr Yashwant Gupta spoke about the SKA, GMRT and also about the collaboration between Australia and India in the space technology sector.

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GMRT Discoveries

A team of Indian astronomers led by Dr Surajit Paul of Savitribai Phule Pune University recently discovered an extremely aged remnant of the ‘lobes’ of a once active radio galaxy. This pair of gigantic lobes of a radio galaxy spanning 1.2 million light-years is located inside the galaxy cluster Abell 980 and it was created about 260 million years ago. The detection of these ‘fossil lobes’ via their low radio-frequency radiation, became possible due to the high sensitivity of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) which is located near Khodad village, 80 km north of Pune.

This front-ranking radio telescope was established and is operated by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA). The other telescopes which contributed to this technically challenging study were the Very Large Array (VLA), Low Frequency Array (LoFAR) and Chandra X-ray observatory.

This the not the first time that the GMRT has been involved in a significant discovery. Among its many finds is the 2018 discovery of the most distant radio galaxy known so far in the Universe about 12 billion light years away.

Iluminated GMRT Antennas at Twilight (Image source: NCRA website)

The GMRT is one of the world’s largest telescopes and the biggest radio telescope of its kind. NCRA set up this facility for radio astronomical research using the metrewavelengths range of the radio spectrum. GMRT consists of 30 fully steerable gigantic parabolic dishes of 45m diameter each spread over distances of upto 25 km.

GMRT is an indigenous project and is one of the most challenging experimental programmes in basic sciences undertaken by Indian scientists and engineers.