Giant satellite phone dish to be turned into space radio telescope

Tue, May 10, 2011, 01:00

A 32-metre satellite dish originally used in the 1980s to take transatlantic calls from Europe to the US is to be reborn as a deep space radio telescope.

The huge dish was originally constructed in Co Cork in 1984 but was retired in the mid-1990s when new fibre-optic transatlantic cables were laid.

There are only a handful of these dishes remaining globally, many of which have fallen into disrepair.

Yesterday at Elfordstown Earthstation, Midleton, Co Cork, Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock announced a partnership between the National Space Centre and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) which will see the dish start a new life as a telescope.

The telescope will be capable of detecting a host of cosmic phenomena including the emission of giant, slow moving hydrogen clouds, the violent explosions of stars, eruptions of the solar surface and storms on Jupiter.

It will be the only 32m radio telescope available to primary students for educational purposes in Europe.

Phase one of the project will see the telescope operational by the end of this summer, with feeds available in September via the internet to primary and postprimary schools.

Phase two will occur in 2012 and will involve the refurbishment of the dish to enable it to turn as it originally did and the installation of sensors and new receivers. The project will be co-ordinated and operated by CIT under Dr Niall Smith, head of research, and Blackrock Castle Observatory.

Dr Smith said this project will see a €10 million radio telescope brought back to life for less than €10,000 thanks to the partnership between the National Space Centre and CIT.

“It’s a great example of using world-class infrastructure in the most cost-effective way to reach out into the community and to embed our growing scientific heritage alongside our world-renowned culture.

“It will excite students in schools who will get to listen in on the radio signals from outer space.

“It will be a test bed for engineering and science projects from primary through to PhD.” The project will benefit education and skills training, and research and development and provide incomparable hands-on training and research opportunities for students from primary through to PhD level.

Mr Sherlock said the National Space Centre is already active in European Space Agency (ESA) programmes including the Galileo Satellite Navigation Programmes.

“Ireland’s ESA membership has contributed to the development of a highly knowledge-intensive industry sector with over 60 Irish technology companies having secured ESA contracts worth over €60 million since 2000.

“We expect this number to grow significantly in 2011,” the Minister added.