Radio telescope receiver

La Trobe University has signed a contract with Sydney-based semiconductor firm Sapphicon to help build one of the world’s smallest and most advanced radio receiver microchips.

satelightThis follows the recent announcement that CSIRO and Sapphicon are jointly developing a complete radio receiver on a single chip measuring 5 mm x 5 mm for radio telescopes which could eventually also find a home in mobile telephones and other communications technologies.

The proposed receiver microchip is hailed as ideal for the $1.8 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Telescope – the world's first global radio telescope comprising a network of thousands of antennas straddling 3,000 kilometres.

CSIRO and Sapphicon said the development of the low-cost, ultra-high-bandwidth system-on-chip (SoC) device could replace ‘traditional receivers currently used in radio astronomy applications – many of which are about the size of a bar fridge’.

The chip’s first test will be in CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) – an array of 36 radio dishes that acts as a single telescope now under construction in Western Australia.

The contract follows several years of collaboration by La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion with Sapphicon and CSIRO on proof-of-concept projects relating to the new radio receiver.

This involved researchers from La Trobe, Peregrine Semiconductor Australia – now known as Sapphicon Semiconductor – and the CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility.

The collaboration produced an innovative and award-winning Low Noise Amplifier microchip, specially designed to address one of the SKA’s most critical challenges – to minimise unwanted noise in the receiver so that radio astronomy signals from space can be more clearly distinguished.

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La Trobe University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Tim Brown, says the University is extremely pleased that its expertise and reputation for micro-nanotechnology research has resulted in engagement with CSIRO & Sapphicon to develop the new receiver chip for the ASKAP project.  

‘The outcomes promise to be of global significance and the University is proud to be part of this major development.’  

Director of La Trobe’s Centre for Technology Infusion, Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh, says the project ‘will showcase Australian innovation resulting from multi-domain collaboration: the technology expertise and brilliant design skills of our group at La Trobe; the domain expertise in radio astronomy at CSIRO; and leading-edge Silicon-on-Sapphire technology from Sapphicon Semiconductors’.

Professor Singh says the key design challenges for an application such as radio astronomy are ‘minimisation of losses in integrated passive components, integration of high-performance RF-front end on a single chip with lowest noise possible, and broad frequency band. The resulting microchip receiver design will have a very wide bandwidth of 1.1 GHz’.

Sapphicon Semiconductor’s CEO, Andrew Brawley, says the chip will be developed using the company’s Silicon-on-Sapphire CMOS (Complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) process.

‘International researchers developing the SKA radio telescope are interested in the outcome of this R&D project. No other group is developing a fully integrated single-chip receiver for a SKA radio telescope’, Mr Brawley said.

Researchers from the La Trobe Centre for Technology Infusion will be involved in design and testing of this chip which will be completed by end of this year and become part of the ASKAP development project next year.


Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh, Director, Centre for Technology Infusion, La Trobe University, T: 03 9479 5628; M: 0411 476 976; E:

Mr Andrew Brawley, CEO Sapphicon Pty Ltd,
T: 02 9763 4111; M: 0412 345 618; E:

See also:

The full CSIRO and Sapphicon announcement: