$300K telescope damaged in flight

A radio telescope reflector was damaged Thursday as it was transported via helicopter from Okanagan Falls to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.

As the massive dish, part of a major scientific project, neared the end of its journey at the observatory south of Penticton,  wind gusts created problems and the lines from the helicopter went slack.

The shock when the lines went tight again, caused the collapse of the dish.

"This was a dramatic glitch, but I am not discouraged," said Gary Hovey, project manager for the National Research Council. "We will get up, dust ourselves off and go at it again."

It was meant to be an exciting day for those involved in the project , and the many onlookers who gathered on White Lake Road to watch the helicopter fly over the hills with the spaceship- like dish dangling beneath it.

"I just heard a report about it on the radio and thought I would swing by and take a look," said onlooker Doug Sims. "I toured the facility in the past and found it very interesting."

The 195 square metre radio telescope reflector is a key part of a dish prototype concept for the Square Kilometre Array, SKA, project, known as the Dish Verification Antennae 1, DVA1.

The SKA is one of the largest and most ambitious scientific projects in history.

From 2018 onwards, thousands of dishes similar to the DVA1 and millions of radio receivers will be deployed in desert regions in Africa and Australia, eventually making the SKA the largest and most sensitive radio telescope on earth.

The SKA aims to uncover the answers to some of humankind's greatest questions, such as the nature of dark energy, the very formation of the universe and whether or not life forms exist elsewhere within it.

Gordon Lacy, chief engineer with the National Research Council, described it as a very unfortunate thing, happening so close to the end of its journey.

He hopes to have the $300,000 carbon fibre dish, which appeared dented and cracked after the incident, fixed in a couple of weeks. 

"We have to pop it out, and once it gets to a certain point it will spring back to position," he said. "We will take this as a lesson learned and carry on."

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