CSIRO, Sapphicon Semiconductor developing miniature radio receiver

Radio chips to be trialed in the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope

A new miniature radio receiver being developed the CSIRO and Australian company, Sapphicon Semiconductor, could result in dramatic improvements in communications equipment as diverse as mobile phones and radio telescopes.

The miniature radio receiver, to be built on a chip measuring 5x5 millimetres, will be capable of very high bandwidth and be able to sample about 600MHz around a central frequency of 1400 MHz, according to the CSIRO.

The CSIRO will contribute the intellectual property it has generated over the last five years as part of the development, while Sapphicon will develop the chip using its silicon-on-sapphire complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) process.

The initial test of the chip will be its use in a radio cameras, otherwise knows as ‘phased array feeds’, which will sit at the focal centre of each of the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope’s 36 dishes to receive incoming cosmic radio waves.

“This chip will minimise the size and weight of the phased array feed, reduce cost and power, and facilitate maintenance,” CSIRO project director for ASKAP, Dr David DeBoer, said in a statement. “In our radio camera, it could revolutionise radio astronomy.”

Traditional receivers used in radio astronomy applications are often the size of a bar fridges, according to the CSIRO.

Sapphicon Semiconductor’s chief executive officer, Andrew Brawley, said the chip was important for radio astronomy as it could significantly improve the performance of integrated passive components in telescopes.

“Perhaps the biggest advantage is that so much circuitry — RF, logic, mixed-signal and passives — can be incorporated into the same chip,” he said in a statement. “This is real miniaturisation and could open up whole new product markets.”

In February, the Australian National Research and Education Network (AARNet) began the search for a supplier to undertake the construction and installation of the fibre optic cable in Western Australia that will transfer data from the ASKAP near the Murchison Radio Observatory near Boolardy to the CSIRO-run support base in Geraldton.