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Engineers turn carpenters for radio dish repairs

This was the scene at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory installation on Thursday after a radio telescope dish was damaged while being air-lifted by a large helicopter.
Image Credit: National Research Council of Canada
October 25, 2013 - 7:28 PM

OKANAGAN FALLS - Engineers exchanged their high-tech electronics for hammers and nails after a large radio dish was damaged during air transport.

The 200-square metre prototype dish was blown around and twisted out of shape while being delivered by helicopter to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory on Oct. 17. Engineers were already dreaming up repair solutions before the disc was lowered to the ground.

Project manager Gary Hovey was one of them. He said the worst hadn't even happened.

"My disaster scenario was it breaking right in two and the bits falling," he said today. "We immediately knew what to do when we faced the collapsed dish."

Hovey and engineers were game for anything, for this first-ever attempt to deliver a radio reflector, of this size, by air. Staff called for and got the same huge airbags used to flip transport trucks upright to inflate the flexible dish back into its smooth convex shape. Lumber was bought at hardware stores to build supports for working under the dish.

"I got one guy who is an electronic technologist, but he's a weekend warrior, and he knows how to cut lumber," Hovey said.

The dish suffered six thin cracks about six feet long each. To apply repairs, to insert resin and composite materials, staff will build braces to support the dish's underside. It will take about a week to prepare for repairs, another two to actually fix it and another week inspecting the dish and checking the work.

Hovey said the staff aren't clock punchers and they'll work until the job is done.

"We might work on weekends if it starts to snow," he said.

Hovey said a few media types and other visitors were surprised about the lack of shock among staff members following the incident.

The project manager said mistakes are expected in research and development. The dish is a prototype; a light-weight, cost-effective alternative to traditional heavier radio reflectors, and it was carried by a helicopter, a mode the team hadn't used before to transport this type of technology.

"When you are doing things for the first time, it's about you learning from mistakes when things go wrong," he said. 

When the dish is up and working, staff will test it's effectiveness. A modern radio reflector is heavy and requires more infrastructure to hold it and move it as well as connect it to other machinery. Hovey believes the prototype will perform better than its counterparts and be cheaper and easier to build and transport.

The dish has already attracted groups like the international Square Kilometre Array project, which is aiming to build the world's largest radio telescope array.

To contact a reporter for this story, to send photos or videos, email Shannon Quesnel at, call 250-488-3065, tweet @shannonquesnel1 or @InfoNewsPentict

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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