This answer mentions that there are some interferometric radio telescope arrays

...consisting of very cheap components relying on massive computing power to retrieve the signals from noise...

The radio interferometers that normally come to mind for me are the VLA and especially ALMA type, where there are only dozens of dishes, each one extremely high-tech and chock full of analog and digital electronics, often linked by high speed fiber optic cables.

What might examples of arrays made from "cheap components relying on massive computing power" be?

  • $\begingroup$ Depends on your definition of cheap but do you mean things like LOFAR ? $\endgroup$ Sep 30 '19 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ It could be. This is an invited question (see comments below the linked answer). That seems to fit the bill. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 30 '19 at 16:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This sounds very obviosuly like LOFAR, which was already mentioned, and the SKA (Square kilometer array). Both arrays consists of simple antennae in the ground (cheap compared to dishes) and are 'software interferometers', relying on virtual interferometry via time-stamps. $\endgroup$ Sep 30 '19 at 20:40

I'm going to compare the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) to the Green Banks Telescope (GBT) just to pick two rather big projects.

The first phase of the MWA featured 256 128 tiles and cost A$ 51 million. About the MWA: http://www.mwatelescope.org/telescope It saw first light in 2013.

edit: the first phase comprised 128 tiles only but I could not find out if the 51 million were the price for the first or the first and second phase.

The GBT cost US$95 million and saw first light in 2003.

To make it compare better: US$ saw an inflation of 1.27 within 10a making a total of USD 120 million. AUD is 0.68 USD bringing down the cost of the MWA to USD 34.5 million.

both telescopes got a lot of upgrades later.

It is difficult to compare but the GBT has a much higher receiver area while the MWA has a vastly greater baseline. They serve different purposes. From this point of view they don't seem to differ in an order of magnitude in pricing.

But the question was about "cheap" parts. Here the costs of the MWA are broken down (page 8). Only 12% of the total costs are related to the front end (i.e. antenna and beam steering electronics), the rest goes in equal parts to the infrastructure and the back end. Considering that in a design like the MWA a lot of signal processing is already part of the design it might even be cheaper in total when considering costs for later upgrades.


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