Are we alone? How did the first stars form? How do galaxies evolve?
Scientists have been trying to answer these expansive and profound questions using various theories, experiments, models and tools. Predominantly, radio telescopes have helped answer some of these questions. In other words, they are our eye to the sky as the large collecting area of a radio telescope offers deeper and clearer views of the sky.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an international project to build the world’s largest radio telescope. It will be the largest science facility on earth. Its design phase has involved over 300 scientists and engineers from across the globe. SKA comprises two telescopes, is spread across three sites, and is separated by thousands of kilometers. Its antennae (hundreds of dishes and close to a million dipoles) will span two continents -South Africa and Australia. Presently, 14 countries, including India, are members of the SKA project. The National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) is leading India’s contribution to the SKA project.
NCRA led the design of the Telescope Manager (TM) work for SKA. The TM provides the monitoring and control capability to SKA. NCRA, in collaboration with global research institutes, partnered with TCS to deliver the architecture and design of the TM. TCS Research and Innovation (R&) Labs led a team that delivered the design of a core control and monitoring part of the TM.
TM acts as the nerve center of the SKA and helps in conducting scientific observations. It mainly involves coordinated control and the monitoring of individual or group antennae, scheduling a science observation, executing it, collecting engineering data, monitoring the telescope’s health, and ensuring that its operations remain safe and reliable. The TM will control thousands of receptors that will in turn generate petabytes of data.
TCS has played a key role in introducing a common design for the system that will be deployed at three different locations -- Australia, South Africa and the UK; stringent non-functional requirements posed by the ambitious scientific goals of SKA posed another set of challenges that needed to be surmounted.
Working as a part of the TM consortium involving teams from six different countries, the TCS team worked extensively on systems engineering requirements, solution design, and architecture. With TCS R&I leading from the front, the TCS team participated in selecting the technologies, tools, frameworks and standards. The team piloted key design, architectural and technology concepts on the NCRA’s own Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) to mitigate technical risks. As a part of this initiative, the team designed, developed and deployed a control system for the GMRT. It is the first control system in the world controlling the telescope and sharing technology stacks and architectural concepts with SKA TM. GMRT is a pathfinder telescope to SKA.
TCS is thus playing a role in that gigantic human effort to engage technology to satiate the human desire of wanting to explore what's 'out there' in the universe. SKA is a magnificent example of an 'eye to the sky' -- envisioned by technology; a vision that TCS is proud to be a part of.