Sunday History Photo / NSW

Submitted: Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 02:52
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The Parkes Observatory is a radio telescope observatory, 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia. It was one of several radio antennas used to receive live, televised images of the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July 1969.
Australia got off to a good start in radio astronomy just after the Second World War. Staff of the CSIRO Radiophysics Laboratory (later the Division of Radiophysics) made the first Australian efforts.
The first proposal was to build a large air-warning antenna that would double as a radio telescope. The Radiophysics Laboratory had close links with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF): during the war it had worked for the army, navy and air force and just after the war it was advising the RAAF on radar and navigation equipment, including air-warning equipment. But the RAAF was even more strapped for cash than CSIRO, and had no money to put towards such a project.
In 1952 it became clear that CSIRO too had no chance of getting a large capital sum to fund such an instrument. Some way had to be found to squeeze it out of the existing Radiophysics budget. So a proposal was drawn up for a cylindrical antenna, lying on its back, 1000 feet long and 200 wide, made up of five adjoining elements. Each element would be 200 feet square, lying on an east-west line and scanned by cable and winches in the north-south direction. The total cost was to be about £A125 000, spread over five years. But once again the answer was ‘no’.

US support, Now a new factor appeared. Unlike Australia, the USA had been slow to take up radio astronomy after the Second World War. The leader of the Division of Radiophysics, Dr E. G. Bowen, had many contacts in science and industry in the USA, and he urged them to help the USA to take up radio astronomy, mainly by building a large radio-receiving antenna.

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Government Support, The last hurdle was that the overseas bodies required that their own grants be met, dollar for dollar, by the Australian Government. The Government rose to the occasion and contributed to not only the capital costs but the running costs as well. A year later the Rockefeller Foundation gave a further $US130,000. The telescope now had an assured future.

At that time there was no-one in Australia capable of building the Parkes telescope or even doing the engineering design. So CSIRO went to Britain for advice (it was thought to be cheaper than the USA). The first person consulted was Barnes Wallis (of ‘dambusters’ fame), who was then the Chief Engineer of Vickers. He advised on the problems of deflection of the telescope’s structure, first by thinking of incompressible columns (he held the patent to this device) and then by recommending automatic compensation for changes to the dish's parabolic shape (which was in fact used in the telescope). In a significant departure from the design of previous telescopes, Wallis recommended that the telescope’s mounting system (the way in which it is turned and pointed to different parts of the sky) be 'alt-azimuth', rather than, for instance, the equatorial mount used on the earlier radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in the UK. And just for good measure, Barnes Wallis came up with the idea of the telescope’s guidance system, the 'master equatorial'. Wallis’ contributions far exceeded his very small retaining fee – which, in any case, it seems that he was never paid.

The detailed engineering design for the Parkes telescope was done by Freeman Fox, the company that had designed the Sydney Harbour bridge. The design contract was placed in 1956 and completed in 1959. After this came the search for a construction contractor: CSIRO settled on the MAN Company (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nurnberg A.G.) in Germany. The contract was placed in 1959 and the telescope completed in 1961.

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Telescope statistics

•Diameter of dish: 64 m
•Collecting area of dish: 3216 m2
•Height to top of focus cabin: 58 m
•Focal length: 27.4 m
•Weight of dish: 300 tonnes
•Weight above control tower: 1000 tonnes
•Maximum tilt: 60° from the vertical
•Time to maximum tilt: 5 minutes
•Time for 360° rotation: 15 minutes
•Surface accuracy: 1–2 mm difference from best-fit parabola
•Pointing accuracy: 11 arcseconds rms in wind (about the width of a finger seen 150 m away)
•Maximum operating wind speed: 35 km per hour
•Motors: 4 x 15 hp 480 volt DC
•Gear ratios – 40,000 : 1
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Reply By: Member - Alan H (QLD) - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:04

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:04
Thanks Doug

Great work

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Reply By: Lyn W3 - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:43

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:43
Thanks Doug,

Still remember when it was built, we went out there when there was an "Open Day" when it was completed . I would have been 6 years old at the time.

It was quite a major event at the time.

Bit chilly in Orange for you?

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Follow Up By: Lyn W3 - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:45

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:45
Also you post in quite fitting as Neil Armstrong passed away today.
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Follow Up By: Life Member - Doug T (NT) - Monday, Aug 27, 2012 at 16:58

Monday, Aug 27, 2012 at 16:58
Yes verry cold for a Territorian in Orange.

A true hero gone with the passing of Neil Armstrong.

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Reply By: Member - Judy and Laurie - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:53

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 08:53
Hi Doug ,
Very interesting , good work
cheers Judy and Laurie
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Reply By: ExplorOz - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 13:13

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 13:13
Some of you may be interested to know that from 1981 - 1986 this was my home - literally...not just Parkes, but the radio telesccope site. My father was system design engineer (or something to that effect) with CSIRO for the reburbishment of the computer system within the telescope to enable NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) to jointly utilise the telscope with AAT (Australian's) to track Giotto's encounter with Haleys Comet (March 13-14 1986. Giotto was a European robotic spacecraft mission from (ESA) the European Space Agency, intended to fly by and study Halley's Comet. The Giotto mission succeeded in approaching Halley's nucleus at a distance of 596 kilometres. Giotto collected over 2000 images of Halleys comet. During this time, we lived in a CSIRO house on site (about 1km straight line distance) from the telescope on the CSIRO 400 hectare property. There was a second house, also occupied by a family of CSIRO workers and a 3rd dwelling was called "the Quarters" for visiting scientists. We would frequently attend functions at the quarters and mingle with international scientists. My first job reference was from ESA - as I was studying "astronomy" in my Year 12 Physics course, I was offered a little work experience with them and performed a task of analysing and looking for pulsars and quasars during a live tracking phase. I'm pretty proud of that reference, hand-written by a ESA scientist. I still have it today of course. But of course, I didn't turn out to follow in my father's footsteps at all - no matter what exposure you give a person, they will follow their heart and mine was not at all wired to science!! LOL

A few other oddities you might enjoy - when my dad was looking for materials to build some fencing for my new horse, we discovered some old panels off the telescope dish lying about in a shed. Sounds bizzare but that's what he used! I must dig up some old photos. I have some great memories of my few years living there - I used to go in and watch all the shows in the visitor centre theatre, and I had free range to take my horse all over the property (I also had a few nasty falls). The view out my bedroom window was the telescope to the south, and the Curumbenya Range of the Goobang NP to the east.

Thanks Doug for rekindling these memories. To anyone that hasn't dropped in at the telescope - make sure you do, it's a great piece of Australian science history and continues to be very important with the upcoming SKA project firmly putting Australian radioscience back into the world scene. The site for a new array of radio telescopes to be the world's lartest and most important has recently been decided. Australia has won the bid and the chosen site is near Geraldton WA. Here's some interesting sites for more info.Wooleen Station blog about SKA, Official SKA page, CSIRO & ATNF.



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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 15:39

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 15:39
Well Michelle, I have visited Parkes radio Telescope several times and thought I knew a fair bit about it. But I sure did not know that it was once your home. Fascinating.
I'm sure that it was not just a very gratifying place to live but also character forming.

To be associated with such a significant project in those early years would be most satisfying. I spent my initial employment in the early years of the Woomera Range and feel that I was part of Australia's history.

And thanks again Doug, for rekindling and adding to my knowledge of this project.


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Follow Up By: Life Member - Doug T (NT) - Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012 at 02:59

Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012 at 02:59

Thanks for your story about a small but interesting part but of your life at Parkes.

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Reply By: Crazy Dog - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 14:01

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 14:01
Another good one Doug..

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Reply By: member-PradoMad - Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 17:30

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 at 17:30
..great stuff. Been out there a few times; always interesting for the kids.
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Reply By: Nomadic Navara - Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012 at 00:32

Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012 at 00:32
The film "The Dish" was very loose with the facts. Here is an account of the facts by one of the staff (Mike Dinn) that ran the Honeysuckle Tracking Station on that day.

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Follow Up By: Life Member - Doug T (NT) - Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012 at 02:54

Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012 at 02:54
Thanks Peter, probably one of the reasons why the movie was not mentioned or a YouTube added.


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