Chief engineer Gordon Lacy stands beside a damaged radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.

Chief engineer Gordon Lacy stands beside a damaged radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.

Oops! New equipment damaged at Penticton-area observatory

Dish being transported by helicopter to White Lake facility dented after getting caught in wind

An errant gust of wind is blamed for the in-flight damage to a 195-square-metre radio telescope reflector being airlifted into place at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) Thursday morning.

As the Kamov twin-rotor helicopter long-lining the structure from nearby Okanagan Falls approached the drop-off point, the convex reflector suddenly went vertical.

Several pieces of the dish could be seen falling before the VIH helicopter pilot was able to regain control.

Once it was on the ground, scientists and technical staff from the observatory quickly gathered around the large sphere to assess the damage which included several large cracks and buckling of the thin, metallised carbon-fibre surface

The reflector was built in a large facility in the industrial sector of Okanagan Falls and the total estimated cost, including moving it to the field where the pedestal it will be placed on is located, is about $300,000.

“The dishes are very thin (five millimetres) and so what happened when the helicopter slowed it looks like one of the lines went a little slack and it got up in a different attitude, the wind caught it a bit and when it came down again that inertia popped the dish and it lost its shape,” said project manager Dave Hovey of the DRAO shortly after the incident.

“What we were doing has never been done before and sometimes you have great successes and sometimes you have little glitches.

“This was a dramatic glitch but a glitch none the less.

“I’m not actually discouraged or anything, we’re just going to get up and dust ourselves off and go at it again.

“This is just a misstep and we’re going to recalibrate and we’ll be back.”

The reflector is a key part of a dish prototype concept for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), described as one of the largest and most ambitious scientific projects in history.

It is the third in a series of National Research Council designs.

When the SKA is eventually built in Africa and Australia, scientists hope it will provide information about the formation of galaxies, how dark energy is accelerating expansion of the universe and life on other planets.

According to Hovey there was consideration given to using a truck to transport the dish but the logistics favoured the aerial route.

“Aerodynamic properties are very difficult to simulate and calculate but now we’ll know what we have to do,” he said.

“We budget for, back-to-the-drawing-board and (in) four months we’ll be back here.

“This scenario was one of those freak chances.”

Although it will take only about four months to construct another reflector, Hovey is concerned about the delay.

“We are in a bit of a foot race with the other countries,” he said. “We were ahead but now we’re even or behind.”

China and South Africa are working on similar prototypes.

Someone else who was disappointed with the incident was DRAO director Sean Dougherty although he too was optimistic about the future of the project.

“This morning didn’t work out ideally and it’s clearly a setback but we can repair the dish and put it on the pedestal,” said Dougherty.

“We’ll learn a lot of engineering properties of this design and at the same time we’ll probably build a second one and there may even be things that we learn about this prototype here that we can incorporate into the second.

“We can take advantage of this and come out ahead I believe.”


Just Posted

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Naramata community in shock as condolences pour in for homicide victim Kathy Richardson

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

Princeton GSAR responds 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2020 the crew was called out 34 times, and members spent 721 hours on calls, and 683 hours training. Photo Princeton GSAR Facebook
Teen missing in Manning Park found after 24 hours

Young man spends night on mountain and survives with just a few scrapes

The RCMP are asking for assistance regarding the death of Kathleen Richardson of Naramata, pictured here. Her death is believed to be related to two homicides in Naramata in May. (RCMP)
Suspected Naramata homicide victim identified by police

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday

(File photo)
Reports of aggressive deer in Penticton prompt warning from city

Expect female deer to be more aggressive over the next two months

(File photo)
Mobile drop-in vaccination clinic coming to Oliver

All those in the Oliver area who have not yet received their first dose are eligible for the vaccine

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a summary of this week’s biggest stories from the Okanagan-Shuswap

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Fair-goers take a ride at the 120th annual Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2019. (Katherine Peters - Morning Star)
Armstrong’s IPE not eligible for COVID-19 grant designed for major attractions

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo criticized the rigidity of the provincial program’s criteria

Two e-scooters parked on the sidewalk along Water Street in downtown Kelowna on Monday, May 3. Scooters parked on walkways are causing accessibility issues for some people with disabilities. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Kelowna General Hospital clinicians observe increase in e-scooter injuries

A report is set to go to city council next week on how the e-scooter pilot has gone thus far

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Most Read