White Rabbit devices to support Square Kilometre Array

Friday, 14 July, 2023

White Rabbit devices to support Square Kilometre Array

Safran Electronics & Defense has announced it will provide more than 200 White Rabbit (WR) devices for the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO). The SKAO is building two next-generation radio telescopes that are set to revolutionise our understanding of the universe by observing the sky in unprecedented detail.

White Rabbit is a collaborative project including CERN, the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research and other partners to develop a fully deterministic Ethernet-based network for general-purpose data transfer and sub-nanosecond accuracy time transfer. It provides sub-nanosecond synchronisation accuracy, which formerly required dedicated hardwired timing systems, with the flexibility and modularity of real-time Ethernet networks.

The SKA telescopes will meanwhile allow astronomers to observe the universe over a broad range of frequencies, from low-frequency radio waves at 50 MHz up to mid-frequency waves of 15.4 GHz. The data generated by the telescopes will be used to study a wide range of astrophysical phenomena, from the formation of the first stars and galaxies to dark matter and signatures of life beyond Earth.

“The integration of White Rabbit technology with the SKA telescopes represents a crucial step in ensuring the success of this pioneering project,” said Carlos Valenzuela, Navigation & Timing, Product Manager with Safran Electronic & Defense. “White Rabbit allows users to synchronise remote devices within one billionth of a second (1 nanosecond). It will enable the telescopes to achieve the level of precision and accuracy required to generate groundbreaking scientific insights into the mysteries of the universe.”

Australia will host the SKA-Low telescope, which will have 131,072 antennas receiving low-frequency radio waves. South Africa will host the SKA-Mid telescope, comprising 197 dish antennas receiving mid-frequency radio waves.

“The SKA project has a strict timing requirement for its operation with a performance below two nanoseconds, which is not achievable by Network Time Protocol (NTP) or Precise Time Protocol (PTP) technology,” Valenzuela said. “The WR-Z [White Rabbit Z] platform is a critical solution developed through Safran’s Navigation & Timing portfolio for the SKA telescopes’ pulse per second (PPS) distribution system. It is a new design integrating WR technology, thus enabling sub-nanosecond accuracy.”

Carlos Frias, EMEA Technical Sales Market Manager for Safran Trusted 4D, said WR-Z had been evaluated in different scenarios to demonstrate its timing performance in dynamic environment conditions fulfilling the SKA telescopes’ requirements for PPS distribution. It will thus enable the SKA PPS distribution system to synchronise the thousands of antennas and dishes spread across Australia and South Africa.

Image shows an artist’s impression of the SKA-Low telescope antenna station at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. Image ©DISR

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