PHOTOS

Parkes Radio Telescope 60th anniversary Part 3: Construction and commission

It took quite the crane to help build the telescope! Photo: George Day.
It took quite the crane to help build the telescope! Photo: George Day.

The CSIRO's 64-metre Parkes Radio Telescope, also known as 'The Dish', was commissioned in 1961, so we are fortunate to be able to celebrate its 60th anniversary on October 31.

At the time, it was the most advanced radio telescope in the world, incorporating many new innovative design features that have since become standard in all large dish antennas.

Through its early discoveries it quickly became the leading instrument of its kind in the world.

Today, 60 years after it was commissioned, it is still arguably the finest single-dish radio telescope in the world.

It is still doing world-class science and making discoveries that are shaping our understanding of the Universe.

In the lead up to the anniversary this Sunday, CSIRO's operations scientist, John Sarkissian OAM, walks us through how The Dish came about, and all that the telescope has achieved over the past 60 years.

In Part 3 we look at the construction and officially commissioning of the telescope.

Building from the ground up

In 1959, FF&P called for tenders on an international competitive basis, and by June, seven bids were received; with the winner being Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nurnberg (MAN) of West Germany - it had the lowest bid of USD $1.4 million.

Another factor in its favour was the promise of completion in the extraordinarily short time of just 21 months, so in July 1959 the contract was signed and by September the construction began at Parkes.

From then on things began to move quickly.

The Sydney firm, Concrete Constructions, began excavating the foundations and by November 1959, the erection of the concrete tower began, and the tower was left to cure for one year before further work could continue.

Meanwhile, Associated Electrical Industries began work on the servo-control system in Manchester (MAN), England, starting with casting some of the massive steel components.

In September 1960, the MAN construction crew arrived at Parkes.

First the steel azimuth track was positioned on the tower, followed by the turret, then the cylindrical hub.

The thirty radial ribs were fabricated on the ground before being lifted, one at a time, and bolted into position to form the dish structure.

The aerial cabin was hoisted into position and then the steel-mesh panels were individually placed on the dish to form the reflective surface.

By late August 1961, the structural work was largely complete, having gone a little over the 21 month schedule MAN had promised.

By any standard, though the construction proceeded remarkably smoothly with few problems or delays, so on October 7 1961, the telescope was tipped for the first time - with the 1,000 tonne metal structure bowing to the horizon.

Commission granted

Three weeks later, on October 31 1961, the Governor-General of Australia, Viscount De L'Isle, officially opened the Parkes telescope in a ceremony attended by 500 guests.

The Governor-General of Australia, Viscount De L'Isle, pops his head through the central hatch to inspect The Dish. Photo: CSIRO Archives.

The Governor-General of Australia, Viscount De L'Isle, pops his head through the central hatch to inspect The Dish. Photo: CSIRO Archives.

In addition to the Governor General, the official party included Taffy Bowen, Sir Frederick White (Chairman of the CSIRO), and Richard Casey, who just four years later, would himself become the 16th Governor General of Australia.

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, sent a special message:

"The development of radio astronomy has been one of the great events of modern Science, and the scientists of CSIRO have played a leading role in this important work. Their studies of the sun and the exploration of extraterrestrial space to the remotest parts of the universe has gained the admiration of astronomers everywhere and has brough great credit to Australia."

"Today the radio astronomers of Australia are to be rewarded by the inauguration of a magnificent radio telescope which will enable them to penetrate still further the secrets of the cosmos. This occasion marks the culmination of much planning and hard work and I send you my best wishes for the success of your investigations with this new instrument."

READ MORE ABOUT THE DISH'S 60TH ANNIVERSARY:

At the end of the ceremony, the giant dish was meant to tip over and 'bow' toward the Vice-Regal party.

Unfortunately, it was a blustery day, and with wind gusts of 110 km/h (70 miles/hour), it was deemed unsafe to tip the telescope, and Wags joked that the dish was too proud to bow to any man!

The wind played havoc with the ceremony, but it was taken in good humour.

The Governor General eventually made his way up through the interior of the structure and popped through the central hatch to inspect the dish surface.

John Bolton sets the standard

John Bolton was the first director of the Parkes Radio Telescope. Photo: CSIRO Archives.

John Bolton was the first director of the Parkes Radio Telescope. Photo: CSIRO Archives.

John Bolton was appointed the foundation director of the telescope, and under his dynamic, decade-long tenure, the astronomers using the telescope made significant discoveries, which established it as the premier scientific instrument in Australia.

In its first year alone, astronomers discovered the immense magnetic field of our Milky Way Galaxy, and a few months later, the most distant known objects in the Universe, quasars, were identified which increased the size of the known Universe, ten-fold.

Then, to cap off a memorable first year, Parkes tracked the very first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, when it flew by the planet Venus in December 1962.

These set the pattern of discovery and achievement, which has continued to the present day.

READ THE NEXT STEP IN THE DISH'S JOURNEY HERE: Still achieving greatness

Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:

Follow us on Facebook

Follow us on Instagram