In preparation for the construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which is expected to commence in 2020, China is set to build a regional data centre that will house its Tianhe-2 supercomputer to crunch large data from the SKA.
The SKA will be the world’s largest and most sophisticated radio telescope. If built, it would have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre sometime in the 2020s and would “eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas, that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence”, according to information on the project website.
Beijing, as one of the founding members of the SKA, is developing reflector antennas and making infrastructural commitments to optimise its usage of data from the SKA.
A recent Xinhua report reveals that China is preparing the Tianhe-2 – the world’s second-fastest supercomputer- to crunch large astronomical data from space, following the 2020 construction of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) in South Africa and Western Australia.
The SKA would require very high-performance primary computing engines and long-haul links with a capacity greater than the global Internet traffic as of 2013, which poses big challenges for ordinary computing systems to effectively manage, serialise, store and archive data from the astronomical instrument.
China’s SKA science team is confident that the country’s expertise in big data management and analysis will come in handy when it comes to tackling the challenges and requirements of the SKA.
“Owing to the extremely high sensitivity, a wide field of view, ultra-fast survey speed and super-high resolution, SKA will generate a vast amount of observational data,” said An Tao, head of the SKA group at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory (SHAO) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS),
“Compared with traditional telescopes, SKA is more of a ‘software’ telescope. It will generate data streams far beyond the total internet traffic worldwide,” he added.
With funding from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the CAS, SHAO recently completed the construction and integration test of the prototype of the China SKA data hub. The prototype completed a large-scale integration test of the SKA core software on the Tianhe-2 supercomputer platform in 2016.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.