Astron and IBM seek Universe’s origins

Astron, the Netherlands foundation for research in astronomy, today announced a collaborative agreement with IBM to produce chips for a telescope to study the origins of the universe.


Astron, the Netherlands foundation for research in astronomy, today announced a new collaborative agreement with IBM to produce chips for a telescope to study the origins of the universe.



The high performance, low power usage customised chips will be used in thousands of antennas as part of Astron’s project to build a new prototype radio telescope called SKADS/EMBRACE. This will be the precursor for the world’s largest radio astronomy telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. Financial terms are not being disclosed.


According to IBM, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany are involved in the design and development of SKADS/EMBRACE antenna tiles and other countries will be involved in the engineering and scientific testing of the SKADS/EMBRACE demonstrator.

A team of engineers from both Astron and the IBM Technology Collaboration Solutions will work in IBM’s Vermont facility on engineering, design and manufacturing of the processors.

The chips will feature very low power consumption, low noise production based on IBM’s announced SiGe 8HP technology having an FT (typical peak frequency) of more than 200GHz, and 0.13 micron design rules. The initial idea for the chip has been agreed upon. It will be a Silicon Germanium (SiGe) technology which combines analogue radio frequency (RF) circuits onto the chip, which can produce low noise, low power consumption and result in a lower cost per unit. IBM and Astron started working on the designs last October 2006. The first chip design and prototype delivery is targeted for the first half of 2007. The second chip design and prototype delivery is planned for later on in the year.

The chips will be deployed in pilot antenna tiles and will be used to filter useful information from the radio signals. The SKADS/EMBRACE antenna tiles will be deployed in the north of the Netherlands at the site of the famous Westerbork Radio Synthesis Telescope (WSRT) and in France near Nançay, South of Paris.

IBM has previously collaborated with Astron on implementing IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer, which is currently being used to gather and analyse information from Astron’s Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) ‘software telescope’ network located in the Netherlands.

Decisions on the final location for the SKA radio astronomy telescope are still to be finalised. Australia and South Africa are the two remaining location options, capable of installing the millions of antennas required for receiving the very weak signals from the universe.