Science Processing Requirements for the SKA: a case study with the MWA

The future of radio astronomy research lies in the ambitious Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world and represents a multibillion-dollar investment by 11 countries. The SKA will be a huge leap forward in the capabilities of radio astronomy and will revolutionise our understanding of physical phenomena in the universe. One of the key challenges that will be faced by the SKA will be how to transport, store and process the vast amount of data it generates.

The radio astronomy research group at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), lead by Assoc. Prof. Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, is at the forefront of radio astronomy research in New Zealand. As major contributors to the SKA Science Data Processor (SDP) package and members of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) SKA precursor project, VUW is heavily invested in the future of the SKA.

The MWA is an international collaboration with over 150 active researchers across 15 institutes and 4 countries. The MWA is located at the remote Murchison radio observatory in Western Australia, which is the future location of the SKA in Australia and utilises the Pawsey supercomputing centre operated by iVEC. The MWA is an excellent test bed for future SKA technologies and operations.

At VUW we have used our involvement with the MWA to setup a small-scale model for the transport, storage and processing that has given us valuable experience that may be expanded upon for potential SKA operations in the future. I will discuss some of the challenges we have faced regarding the transport and processing of large MWA data sets and how our operations over the past two years relate to possible future endeavors with the SKA. It is vital that we determine the best practices to efficiently process SKA data products so that we can extract the most information and value from the instrument and maximise the scientific return.


Dr. Luke Hindson

Post Doctoral Fellow, School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


For the past two and half years I have been working as part of Melanie Johnston-Hollitt’s radio astronomy group at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). Prior to this, I received my PhD from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK for my research into multi-wavelength studies of star formation in the Milky Way.

The focus of my current research is to exploit the new science made possible by the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). This has involved assisting with the scientific commissioning of the instrument, publication of the first scientific results using the completed array and contributing to the processing of the Galactic and Extragalactic All-sky MWA (GLEAM) survey. The GLEAM survey is producing the most detailed low frequency view of the southern sky to date and I am in the process of analysing early data products from this survey in an effort to characterise sources in the Milky Way. Part of my work has been to assist in the development of computing infrastructure at VUW that has enabled us to receive, store and process MWA data products.