Avazia - Control, Automate, Test & Measure
LabVIEW Control Engineering & Test Software
ALMA Antennas.jpg

ALMA - RAL Space

Automate control for testing ALMA telescope.

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Test Systems for ALMA telescope- RAL Space

We used LabVIEW to automate control to test the world's largest telescope. Our software programmers, under a principle Avazia Architect, led the software development on this global billion dollar project. 

Background

A Front End assembled and ready for testing. Thecryostat (blue vessel) is cooled to 4K (-269°C). The FE contains up to 10 different bands.  Image courtesy STFC

A Front End assembled and ready for testing. Thecryostat (blue vessel) is cooled to 4K (-269°C). The FE contains up to 10 different bands. 
Image courtesy STFC

The Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) telescope is one of the world's largest ground based astronomical projects of recent times and is the major new facility for observations in the millimetre/sub-millimetre region.

In the summer of 2009 we were approached by RAL Space and invited to work on the project to lead the software development for the European Union's FEIC.

Requirements

The project required working with the other integration centres in the US and East Asia to develop software which could be used to automate testing, assist with cartridge optimisation as well as support integration and development activities more widely.

A Front End under test on the Beam Scanner

A Front End under test on the Beam Scanner

Many major components of the test hardware at the EU FEIC were different to those used in the other centres, as a result new software designs and approaches were required whilst ensuring output data would still comply with the required standards.

Approach

There were a number of technical and logistical challenges in this project - working on cutting edge science meant it was often not possible to detail all the requirements in advance (many were not known). We also had to collaborate with many different players across Europe and other centres around the world. We overcame these challenges by working very closely on site with RAL from the start, with direct access to their engineers and test team. 

Near field magnitude data as an output from the Beam Scanner Software developed by Avazia

Near field magnitude data as an output from the Beam Scanner Software developed by Avazia

The test software was split into two main areas, a Beam Scanning system capable of measuring the performance of the telescope receiver beams (data for beam magnitude and phase were measured using a custom designed raster scan, then a near-to-far field conversion was performed on the data), and a Load Scanner which was used to test amplitude stability, noise performance and general testing.

Results

The software we developed was highly successful - as a result we were asked to develop additional software which could be used to optimise the cartridges prior to testing and use. This software was in turn distributed to the other integration centres and was also then used by the operation centre in Chile.

We worked with RAL for a number of years on this project and were often involved in troubleshooting the Front End hardware. When in late 2011 the test team underwent some significant changes we were able to use our knowledge of the system, equipment and testing procedures to help train new team members.

In February 2013 the final Front End from the EU FEIC was shipped to Chile marking the end of this chapter in the project.

Additional Information

For more information on the ALMA project see here

Used in this project

Software

LabVIEW, MATLAB, GOOP, Perforce, JIRA

Interfaces

TCP/IP, UDP, CAN, Serial

Hardware

Vector Network Analyser (Agilent), Signal Generators (various Agilent & Rhodes & Schwartz), Optical Attenuators (Agilent), Power meters (Agilent), Optical Power Meters (various), Spectrum Analysers (various including Agilent and Rhode & Schwartz)

Skills

Advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting, working with a global development team, managing development in a production environment, passing software audits & reviews,  competency with ESD (training courses and daily working environment), team training, LabVIEW programming.