RADIOBLOCKS: New European consortium to develop next generation technologies for radio astronomy infrastructure

The RADIOBLOCKS project, coordinated by JIV-ERIC and including major European research infrastructures for radio astronomy, together with partners from industry and academia, has been granted 10 million euros by the European Commission to develop ’common building blocks’ for technological solutions beyond state-of-the-art, that will enable a broad range of new science and enhance European scientific competitiveness.

This project will start on 1 March 2023, with significant involvement from e-MERLIN and Jodrell Bank, as well as other major European research infrastructures such as LOFAR, EVN, NOEMA; individual dishes such as Effelsberg, Sardinia, IRAM-30m, Yebes; and partners across the world such as the SKA, ALMA, GMVA and EHT.

It will take a holistic view of how radio telescope arrays capture, process, synthesise and analyse cosmic signals and will develop components, technologies and software, applicable to a wide range of instruments, to enable the next major discoveries in radio astronomy.

RADIOBLOCKS aims to achieve a maximal boost for the major world-leading research infrastructures in radio astronomy by developing common needed blocks:

  • for the development of new correlators, which can efficiently exploit powerful new commercially available accelerator hardware (GPUs). This development will directly benefit the large radio arrays from metre to sub-mm wavelengths;
  • in cutting-edge frontend technologies, addressing the generation and real-time handling of wide band and multi-band data, in particular for the creation of novel detectors and components, both RF and IF, as well as the design of backends, with built-in RFI mitigation;
  • for multipixel (PAF/FPA) receivers, ranging from cm to submm wavelengths, suitable for large single dish facilities, with special relevance for future collaborations with pan-European and global RIs (for example, SKA-VLBI);
  • for data (post)processing, testing prototype workflows functionality and demonstrating usage of end-to-end simulation tools.

The project RADIOBLOCKS collects the experience and common interests of the radio astronomy community in Europe at large, including several other global parties and industry. For the first time, all will work together to develop the technologies that are necessary for the future evolution of their facilities. This is a paradigm shift, mostly facilitated by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme.

The four-year RADIOBLOCKS project - funded by the Horizon Europe Framework Programme - involves 33 major European research infrastructures for radio astronomy, together with partners from industry and academia from nine European countries, Japan, Republic of Korea, South Africa, and the UK. The engagement with industry to co-develop advanced technologies will increase the partners’ technological levels and strengthen their market positions.

European research infrastructures (RIs) involved in RADIOBLOCKS are the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIV-ERIC), the European VLBI Network (EVN), the Multi Element Remotely Linked Interferometer Network (e-MERLIN), the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR/ILT, in the process to become LOFAR ERIC), the Northern Extended Millimetre Array (NOEMA), the 100-metre Effelsberg Telescope, the Sardinia 64-metre radio telescope, the Yebes 40-metre telescope, the IRAM 30-metre telescope, and also global facilities of European interest such as the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO, an ESFRI landmark), the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the Global Millimetre VLBI Array (GMVA), and the Event Horizon Telescope project (EHT).

The RADIOBLOCKS project brings together world-leading academic research and industry experts from across Europe and beyond to co-develop and then exploit new technologies to maximise the science capabilities of current and future radio facilities.

Professor Rob Beswick, Head of Science Operations and User Support for e-MERLIN, the UK’s National Radio Astronomy Facility; Deputy Director of the UK SKA Regional Centre and RADIOBLOCKS lead at The University of Manchester

RadioNet has been instrumental in integrating a unique array of capabilities and facilities, and contributed to the continued advances in radio astronomy, which are recognised as essential in answering key questions in astrophysics.

RADIOBLOCKS is coordinated by JIV-ERIC, based in the Netherlands. The University of Manchester is a major partner, active across all parts of the project including development of specialised components for state-of-the-art receivers and the utilisation of emerging technology to develop next-generation correlation techniques.

The Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics is coordinating 2 million euros of activity to develop advanced data workflows. This work will draw together expertise across 13 partners and nine countries to create a modular, open-source and flexible analysis toolkit to enable rapid, reproducible and scalable analysis of the large-volume data products created by current, and future, radio and millimetre astronomical research infrastructures.