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128TB tape cartridges key to kilometer-size telescope

December 6, 2012 06:00 AM ET

"Eventually, you store [the data] in files that have to be accessible by scientists around the world. It's similar to what's happening in CERN, but even bigger," Eleftheriou said. "The tape will be used as a deep archive."

On average, the CERN hadron collider stores 15 petabytes of data per year.

According to the Storage Industry Consortium (INSIC) roadmap, tape cartridges will hold up to 128TB of data each by 2022, significantly more than today's technology, which holds about 6TB. In order to increase the capacity, technologists in IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory must increase the areal density of today's tape cartridges by a factor of 20.

Eleftheriou's team has already demonstrated it can store 29.5Gb of data per square inch of magnetic tape. The team is shooting for 100Gb per square inch, which is more than enough achieve the 128TB tape cartridges it is seeking. While latency would be a problem if tapes were stored offsite, tapes stored in a robotic library will be able to be read sequentially, once the beginning of a file is reached. Today's enterprise-class tape drives afford up to 250MBps throughput, more than enough for data hungry scientists.

Construction is expected to start in 2016 and take four years. The exascale supercomputer is expected to be completed by 2024, enabling SKA to be online by 2024, Eleftheriou said.

The actual radio telescope array will be far larger than 1 kilometer. The kilometer in the SKA's name refers to the total collecting area of the SKA, which will be 1 million square meters, according to the SKA website. To achieve this, the SKA will use 3,000 dish antennas, each about 15 meters in diameter as well as two other types of radio wave receptor, know as aperture array antennas. The antennas will be arranged in five spiral arms and the dishes will extend to distances of at least 3,000 kilometers from the center of the long baseline array.

SKA's radio telescope dishes
Closeups of the SKA's radio telescope dishes (Source: SKA Organization)

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