ABOVE: BIG DADDY: The 30m Telecom "Warkworth 2" dish being handed over to AUT University today. BELOW: AUT's 12m dish from US company Patriot Systems (on hill at rear). The $2 million dish includes a $300,000 atomic clock for exact synchronization with other radio telescopes. Around 60 dishes will be needed in NZ if Australasian wins the $2.4 billion Square Kilometre Array project (click to zoom).
Before the Southern Cross Cable was laid across the Pacific in 2000, Telecom’s 30m satellite dish at Warkworth, north of Auckland, provided New Zealand’s primary broadband link with the outside world. It's also been used for TV, and international phone calls.
Telecom has now decommissioned the monster "Warkworth 2" dish and, this Friday, handed it over to AUT University on a 20-year lease.
The dish will be used by AUT’s Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR) to study star formation, the Milky Way’s centre and gaseous components of our Galaxy.
The university already has its own 12m dish at the Warkworth Satellite Station, built and installed last year, for around $2 million, by US company Patriot Systems.
The two dishes will now be networked together.
This could be the start of something very, very big. AUT’s Warkworth project forms the centerpiece of the New Zealand half of the Australia-NZ government-backed bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a $4 billion megascience project that will be awarded next year (a South Africa-led consortium is also in the running; Brazil and China were in the race but dropped out).
The project would see around 5000 satellite dishes across Australasia (about 60 of them in New Zealand, at around $2 million a pop, plus ongoing costs) working as one, enormous virtual radio telescope.
The economics of megascience
In a guest editorial in NBR's print edition titled "How the budget will boost growth," Science, Research and Technology minister Wayne Mapp wrote, "Effective international science collaboration is critical to our success. The government will work to build up “science diplomacy” and contribute to international science opportunities such as the Square Kilometre Array."
Perhaps wary of potential public backlash against such an expensive science initiative, IRASR director Professor Sergei Gulyaev has emphasised that the SKA should create many high tech jobs due to the estimated 400 to 1000 man-years of software development required.
And as well as searching for ET, the SKA could bounce radio waves around the atmosphere to study phenomena closer to home, such as global warming, as well as contributing to earthquake earning warning systems.
Prof Gulyaev said New Zealand has an 80% chance of winning the SKA. Australasia is a more stable environment politically. And Australia and New Zealand’s combined geographical reach – and thus, the size of the SKA’s virtual dish – is larger than anything the South Africa-led consortium can offer.
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