Plea for the Advanced Instrumentation Program

The Advanced Instrumenation Program should be our first priority. Our goal is to build the full SKA, with its promise of doing transformational science.

When I first joined the SKA in 2005 as project scientist for SKADS, I was quickly swept up in the enthusiasm for the project by Steve Rawlings and his talks about transformational science, and the Dark Energy machine. It was the promise of a field of view on the order of 100 square degrees which radically improved survey speed, and permitted rapid surveys to measure Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, in several redshift bins, which made SKA unequaled for tying down the w-parameter and understanding Dark Energy.

With SKA, we’re not just building the same old thing, only bigger. SKA, with the AIP, is providing the means to do astronomy in completely new ways. It is the transformational technology of dense aperture arrays which allow this transformational science to happen.

ASTRON is the pionneering institute which has been developing dense aperture arrays for almost two decades, and we are very proud at Nançay to have joined this endeavour seven years ago, and that our technology merits being at the very heart of EMBRACE. We are committed to the dense aperture array technology, and we want to see it achieve its promise of transforming radio astronomy, and to see it become an integral part of SKA.

EMBRACE has demonstrated the basic concept to use dense arrays for radio astronomy, but there is still much to do. We must demonstrate that we can calibrate EMBRACE, that it can be used for different types of observations, that it is a stable and reliable system which can run an observing program over a long term.

Some of our SKA partners have dismissed dense aperture arrays without looking closely at what we’ve achieved so far with EMBRACE, and at what we’re developing now to improve cost, power consumption, and performance. The timeline is aggressive, but with enough dedicated effort, we can make dense arrays viable for SKA Phase 2. This should be our priority.

We should pursue the ultimate goal of the full SKA with the AIP, so that we can deliver the promise of transformational science.

This is an extract from a letter I sent on 9 February 2012 after a meeting which showed that there was diminishing support for AIP amongst the SKA partners.
S.A. Torchinsky, April 2013

last update 2013 April 13, 21:02 UTC by Steve Torchinsky. See changelog.