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SKA Director General on visit to French astronomy facilities

Some days ago, Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, visited the Nançay Observatory, a laboratory of both the Observatoire de Paris and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Claude Catala, President of the Observatoire de Paris, Gilles Theureau, Director of the Nançay facility, and other engineers working on site hosted the visit and showed the SKA Director the ongoing activities and developments of new radio techniques, especially the ones related to the SKA. In particular, engineers at Nançay are working on the next generation of Mid Frequency Aperture Array for SKA while continuing to work with the currently operational EMBRACE (Electronic MultiBeam Radio Astronomy ConcEpt) mid frequency pathfinder. Nançay expertise provided the integrated analog beamformer chip for EMBRACE, and current work focuses on integrating the functionality of multiple chips, including amplifier, filter, analog beamformer, and analog-digital conversion into a single package. Such a high level of integration will result in vast improvement in performance and power consumption, which is potentially very interesting for the SKA as it would permit to reduce significantly the manufacturing cost for the mid frequency aperture array. The project, called Aperture Array Integrated Receiver, is a collaboration with the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, and is incorporated in the ASTRON-led Aperture Array consortium which will respond to the upcoming SKA Request for Proposals. Nançay engineers are also involved in the development of real time RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) mitigation algorithms in collaboration with researchers at Orleans, and EMBRACE is being used as a test bed for these novel techniques.
“I was very impressed by the R&D activities ventured at Nançay in the areas of microelectronics and signal processing and this work will certainly be of high interest for the SKA especially in this detailed design phase of the telescope”, said Phil Diamond after his visit. “It is also very exciting to see that the SKA community extends far beyond the current member countries of the Organisation and that many engineers and scientists around the world are enthusiastic to contribute to this global enterprise.”
On the second day of his visit to France, Professor Phil Diamond gave a presentation on the SKA at the Observatoire de Paris and had the opportunity to meet with staff from the facility and with Denis Mourard, Scientific Deputy Director of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department of INSU-CNRS, to discuss potential formal engagement of France within the SKA.

Phil Diamond, SKA Director General, and Nançay Observatory staff standing next to the impressive Nançay Decimetric Radio Telescope. From left to right: Gilles Theureau – Director of the Nançay radio astronomy facility; Wim van Driel – Paris Observatory GEPI laboratory, astronomer; Michel Tagger – Director of the Laboratoire de Physique et Chimie de l’Environnement et de l’Espace (Orléans); Pierre Colom – Paris Observatory GEPI laboratory, astronomer; Ismaël Cognard – assistant director of the Nançay radio astronomy facility; Claude Catala – President of Paris Observatory; Phil Diamond – Director General, SKA Organisation; Steve Torchinsky, Nançay radio astronomy facility; Jean-Michel Martin, Paris Observatory GEPI laboratory, astronomer