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Repairs to dish well underway

It was at this point the radio telescope reflector being moved into place at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory received substantial damage. Technicians have already made significant repairs. - Mark Brett/Western News
It was at this point the radio telescope reflector being moved into place at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory received substantial damage. Technicians have already made significant repairs.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Repairs are going smoothly to a radio reflector dish damaged during a flight to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory last week.

On Monday, technicians using an airbag system were able to pop the 195-square-metre structure back into shape.

“Because of this (repair) it is definitely not as bad as we first thought,” said project manager Gary Hovey.

“In a weird way we may actually come out ahead.

“I wouldn’t do it again but now we’re taking advantage of being able to demonstrate what we feel is the robustness of the whole design and how it can be fixed even after it has been damaged significantly.”

Other repairs include fixing several large cracks in the thin, metalized carbon-fibre surface.

The damage happened while the reflector was being delivered by helicopter from its manufacturing site in Okanagan Falls several kilometres away.

“People in other parts of the project who saw the event Thursday were dismayed, thinking we wouldn’t bounce back but I think we’ll bounce back just fine,” said Hovey.

He has since received congratulatory emails about the durability of the material under such extreme conditions.

The dish is a prototype reflector for the billion-dollar multinational Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

When completed it will be the largest telescope in the world.

“I think we are back on track,” said DRAO director Sean Dougherty this week.

“I’m reasonably confident we’re looking good.

“We’ve probably set ourselves back three to four weeks but the cost is not significant.”

Work on the project has been underway for a number of years and may eventually pay big dividends financially and scientifically.

Canada is one of three countries working on similar prototypes, substantial numbers of which will be needed when the SKA project begins.

“The primary human interest factor is attempting to understand where it is we come from and why we are the way we are and why the universe looks the way it does today,” said Dougherty.

“All the molecules in our bodies, the iron in our blood the calcium in our teeth, those elements were originally formed in the centre of the stars and is fundamental to understanding where we came from.”

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