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5. Remote Observing

5.1 Introduction

Remote observing with the Parkes telescope from the Marsfield Science Operations Centre (SOC) which commenced in December 2012, and is expected to be the default mode of observing by the start of the OCT13 semester. Observing from Parkes will still be permitted for complex or non-standard observations, or in other circumstances where this is the more sensible option. Observers who have successfully observed from the SOC will be permitted to carry out subsequent Parkes observations from other remote locations: all observers must observe at least once every 12 months from the SOC in order to become a qualified Parkes remote observer.

An introduction to the SOC is available here.

5.2 Before You Observe

5.2.1 Remote Observing Requirements

The remote observer will need the following:

5.2.2 How to book for observing projects

Booking for projects is vital as Science Operations needs to ensure all observers are fully qualified. In terms of qualification, this means you have observed from the SOC (or Parkes) at least once, have completed the online Observer induction in the last twelve months and in the case of first-time observers, undertake a face-to-face induction to familiarise yourself with how observing with Parkes is undertaken (this can be done at the SOC or remotely if appropriate.)

You can determine your eligibility to remote observe by looking at the "Your certification status" under the "Certification" tab of the PORTAL.

Please note we require all bookings to be made at least two weeks prior to the scheduled observations.

If there are no bookings 14 days prior to schedule observations, an email is sent to the project Principal Investigator, asking them to start organising people to book on the PORTAL. Another reminder is sent to all people on the proposal 7 days out. Once you have obtained a CASS Unix account, you can log onto the Parkes Observing PORTAL and start booking. We’ll go through an example below.


Figure 5.1: Booking for observing blocks on the Parkes PORTAL.

5.3 Remote Observing Support

This support model commenced at the start of the OCT13 semester.

The remote observer in need of assistance should, in general, consult these in the order given below.

fig:remote_support shows the flow of support as defined above.


Figure 5.2: Remote Observing Support Model.

5.3.1 Role of the Remote Observer

The role of the Remote Observer is to monitor the progress of the observation and the condition of the telescope and collected data through a variety of interfaces. During the observation, this monitoring is the remote observers’ primary responsibility.

The state of the telescope is monitored by its automated protection system, the TPS (Telescope Protection System). The TPS monitors the critical telescope systems, and acts in favour of the safety of the telescope if adverse conditions are detected. Its actions include stowing the telescope or disabling its motion, switching between alternate power sources for the telescope and initiating observatory staff intervention. Monitoring displays used for observing will inform the observer of any action taken by the TPS.

5.3.2 Role of the Project Expert

Each team is required to nominate the Project Expert at the time of the proposal submission. This is an astronomer who is an expert observer of the Parkes Telescope for that specific observing mode. Tasks of the Expert are:

5.3.3 Role of Science Operations

5.3.4 Emergency Call-out Person

The Emergency Call-out Person (ECP) is part of the Parkes Rapid Response Team which comprises members of the Parkes staff equipped to solve or assist in solving telescope safety issues that TPS cannot address. At all times one member of the team will be on duty. They will be contactable by the TPS, by staff in EO or SO, and by the remote observer. The role of the Call-out person is two-fold. The chief role is to assess any emergency situation brought to their attention, and if necessary call for assistance from other members of the team or from emergency services (eg. local fire brigade). The sequence to be followed is:

5.4 Stowing and Unstowing

Note: If you are unstowing the telescope for observing, you must first follow the following procedures:

With the MCP in Computer Remote, you can stow/unstow the antenna using TCS. Under the "ACTION PANEL" (top right of TCS GUI), you press the "Stow" button. Once complete, this will disable the drives in Azimuth and for Zenith, the antenna will drive to the Zenith Stop position (~ -0.54 deg) and put in the locking pin. Note the safety timer will also be disabled.

To unstow the antenna, press the "Unstow-ExLim" button on TCS, under the "ACTION PANEL" section, top right on the TCS GUI. This will remove the Zenith locking pin, drive the antenna out of limits and leave both drives enabled. Note again, that the MCP must also be in Computer Remote.

Note: You can only start observing with TCS if the Zenith angle is greater than 1.2 degrees.

5.5 Handover Procedures

This section provides detailed checklists of the handover procedures for the different type of situations that can be met:

An example of “No Operator” is when the an Observer takes control after a Green Time period. Here, “Staff” refers to Science and/or Engineering Operations staff, located at the Parkes site.

The above that are relevant to observing are described below, but users should consult the full procedures for remote operations here.

5.5.1 Staff-to-Observer

5.5.2 Observer-to-Staff

5.5.3 Observer-to-Observer

5.5.4 No Operator-to-Observer

(N.B.: to further investigate whether this procedure - combined with the others, e.g. Staff-to-No Operator - is sufficiently safe.)

5.5.5 Observer-to-No Operator

5.5.6 No Operator-to-Staff

5.5.7 Staff-to-No Operator

5.6 Using VNC from the SOC

Parkes Observing from the Science Operations Center (SOC) is done in a dedicated room with three monitors connected to the machine PYXIS. The username and password can be obtained from SOC observing support.

The recommended layout for observing is shown below in fig:vnc_servers. Please try to stick with this layout.


Figure 5.3: Using VNC from the SOC.

The VNC servers on joffrey are run as user PKSOBS. Prior to observing, ensure:

Once the above is done, open two terminals, one in each screen on the SOC Parkes observing machine (PYXIS) and type the following:

vncviewer -shared [-noraiseonbeep] joffrey.atnf.csiro.au:1 in the first screen,

vncviewer -shared [-noraiseonbeep] joffrey.atnf.csiro.au:2 in the second.

The -noraiseonbeep should be used if you do not like beeping terminals to take focus. The VNC password is available from the SOC Parkes observing desktop, or from staff.

The third screen should be used to dislay the following: FROG and the OBSERVING PORTAL. If you are observing in Pulsar mode, you may also connect to the Pulsar Online Monitor.

Other Pulsar backends:

As you will require a web brower to access the above, we recommend you do the following as the browser on joffrey and myrcella is disabled.

ssh -L 30000:caspsr-srv0:80 ident@orion.atnf.csiro.au

Where ident is your ATNF *nix account which can be obtained from a link on the login page of the PORTAL. Once you have connected as above, you point your browser to:

http://localhost:30000/bpsr/ or http://localhost:30000/caspsr/ as required.

5.6.1 VNC startup on joffrey:1

Assuming you are starting up for the first time, ensure the following are present on JOFFREY:1. TCS primary

On JOFFREY:1, in the first virtual window.

If TCS is already running, it is recommended you close it and exit the terminal (especially if interleaving projects are pulsar and spectral/continuum in nature.) Open a terminal on joffery and type the following:

From the startup GUI, select the relevant mode for your observations (and select the expert mode). Select the relevant recall state if there is one. For example:

The indication that this is TCS primary is shown on the title bar of the TCS GUI. TCS alternative

On JOFFREY:1, in the second virtual window.

If you are using another instance of TCS (i.e., you are using DFB4/CASPSR simultaneously), open a MYRCELLA terminal (right–most terminal icon on taskbar) and type:

If you are NOT using another instance of TCS, you may use this virtual window for other purposes, but note anything you open may be closed at the start of the next observing session. The indication that this is TCS alt is shown on the title bar of the TCS GUI.

It is important to note the dummy antenna systems are started by start_alt, otherwise file header parameters will be incorrect. Note that start_alt kills existing processes before restarting them.

Note that for Pulsar projects, schedules such as the following should be used: P456_MB_PDFB4A.sch (note the A for alternate.) LOBOSS, LOGUI and OPERFCC

On JOFFREY:1, in the third virtual window.

On the bottom panel, click on "Observing Tools" and start LOBOSS, OPERFCC and LOGUI. PKMC

On JOFFREY:1, in the fourth virtual window.

On the bottom panel, click on "Observing Tools" and start PKMC.

5.6.2 VNC startup on joffrey:2

Assuming you are starting up for the first time, ensure the following are present on JOFFREY:2. DFB4

On JOFFREY:2, in the second virtual window.

If using DFB4, on the bottom panel, click on “Backend Tools” (twice) to open two ssh connections to pkccc4. Now do the following: MoniCA

On JOFFREY:2 in the fourth virtual window.

On the bottom panel, click on “Observing Tools” and start MoniCA.

After selecting the Parkes site, you can select the appropriate monitoring GUI from the Navigator menu. Suggested monitoring items:

Note: To display multiple panels, click Window -> New window and select the page to display from there.

The currentalerts contains a watchdog monitor of a few critical systems such as UPS status and site power. It may also contain monitoring points of current interest which you should be on the lookout for. These monitoring points can change at any time and should NOT be altered unless done so by local staff.

5.7 Using VNC outside of CSIRO

If necessary, download a VNC client. We recommend TightVNC, which exists for Linux and Windows. Mac users should use Chicken of the VNC.

Establish an ssh tunnel into ATNF for VNC’s use, you will need one tunnel for each screen.

joffrey:1 => ssh your_ident@orion.atnf.csiro.au -L 5901:joffrey.atnf.csiro.au:5901

joffrey:2 => ssh your_ident@orion.atnf.csiro.au -L 5902:joffrey.atnf.csiro.au:5902

Here, your_ident is your CASS *nix account (NOT your NEXUS account). This is a requirement for remote observing.

Now, start the VNC Client on your local computer and connect to, which is the VNC display for TCS, LOBOSS, etc.

Next, start another VNC Client on your local computer and connect to, which is for backends such as DFB4 and MoniCA.

If you are unable to connect using the the above AND you are outside the CSIRO network, contact your ISP or home institution.

See Using VNC from the SOC about connecting to Pulsar backends such as APSR, BPSR and CASPSR using ssh tunnelling.

5.8 Observing Specifics

Below is a detailed "checklist" for you to perform before you start Spectral-line and/or Continuum observations. The checklist is divided into sections, based on the application you are required to use.

5.8.1 Conversion System

For both cases, to check if it attenuators are correctly set after issuing an lorun command, press REFRESH on LOGUI. Check C12att, C30att, C40att (if using 64/128 MHz BW), and check C50att (if using 256 MHz BW). See if these are set to the desired levels as set in the .cmd file.


With OPERFCC, you can move a receiver on axis. TCS should do this as long as you have the "receiver" key in your schedule file(s). If using atsnap to drive the antenna, you will need to place your receiver on focus manually by selecting your receiver and press "Place selected receiver on axis".

5.8.3 PKMC

5.8.4 Correlator

IF THE CORRELATOR DOESN’T START, follow the recommended procedures listed in the Troubleshooting section of the Correlator user Guide.

5.8.5 SPD

Some basic commands:

sel * to see all bandpass data

sel 11 to see spectra (DFB only)

sel pp11 to see profiles (DFB only)

sel aa, bb, cc, dd display Pol A/B, first (aa/bb) and second (cc/dd) IF

bins 1 - N time-binning mode only: it shows the first N bins of a time-cycle (DFB only)

x toggle "x" axis: channels <=> frequencies

a auto scale amplitude. You can define limits, e.g. a 0 1e3

ch x-y show only channels from #x to #y. It is usually useful to skip first and lasts channels, e.g. ch 5-8185

avg|noavg to enable/disable time averaging.

quit to exit spd.

Additional commands for SPD can be found at the following: SPD Users Guide

5.8.6 DATA

On any machine, data is located in directories:

Note all data processing should to be done on PICTOR.

5.9 Telescope Protection System

The purpose of the Telescope Protection System (TPS) is to only capture issues that would have a major impact if not acted on in a timely manner. In the past, many of these issues have been left to the observer(s) to deal with. The TPS is a standalone controller which communicates with systems such as power, weather, vibration monitoring, cryogenics and other equipment. These devices are also connected to MoniCA, which the TPS also references.

The TPS has two forms of alert. These are "Alarm Out" and "Info Out". The TPS will follow the appropriate action as specified in Table tab:tpsactions. It should be noted that the actions described will only be carried out with the Master Control Panel in Computer Remote mode. This will become the default mode of operation for observing at Parkes.

Alarm / AlertTPS Action
Inability for TPS to alarm out (No acknowledgement of Alarm Out within 10min)Stow Antenna
No Comms to PowerStow Antenna / Alarm Out
No Comms to Temp monitoringAlarm Out
No Comms to Servo ComputerAlarm Out
No Comms to MCP interfaceAlarm Out
No Comms to lightning (Monica)Alarm Out / Start Generator
Generator Critical Alarm (Generator commanded to start, but not running within 2min)Stow Antenna / Alarm Out
No Comms to lightning (Monica) & Generator Critical AlarmStow Antenna / Alarm Out
No mains connected (>2min)Info out
No mains connected (>2min) & Generator Critical AlarmStow Antenna / Alarm Out
Diesel low fuel alarm (at 50% capacity, Critical Alarm at 30% capacity)Info Out
Generator control in local modeInfo Out
Site UPS alarm (>2min) (fault or very low battery)Start Generator / Alarm Out
Drive UPS alarm (>2min) (fault or very low battery)Start Generator / Alarm Out
High wind (severe)Stow Antenna (in addition to SERVO actions)
Lightning level (moderate)Start Generator
Lightning level (moderate) & Generator Critical AlarmAlarm Out / Stow Antenna
Lightning level (severe)Stow Antenna / Start Generator
Stow antenna commanded, but not stowed (after 8 min)Alarm Out
E-stop active & MCP in Remote Computer ModeAlarm Out
Cryo system fault (pressure or cryodyne interlock)Alarm Out
Overtemperature – Focus Cabin, Level2, MaserHut, CompressorRm or SWEOAlarm Out
SWEO Az problem & NOT severe weatherAlarm Out / Az drives Off
SWEO Az problem & severe weatherAlarm Out / Stow Antenna
SWEO Zn problem & NOT severe weatherAlarm Out / Zn Drives off
SWEO Zn problem & severe weatherAlarm Out / Stow antenna
Structure Stress & NOT severe weatherAlarm Out Az Drives Off Zn Drives Off
Structure Stress & severe weatherAlarm Out Stow antenna
Safety Timer ExpiredUnknown
Safety Timer Expired & MCP ManualUnknown
Safety Timer Expired & MCP in Local Computer modeStow Antenna - No delay before alerting
Safety Timer Expired & MCP in Remote Computer modeUnknown
Safety Timer needs resetting & MCP in Remote Computer ModeReset Safety timer

Table 5.1: Actions that the TPS is required to take.

5.10 Weather and wind restrictions

With the introduction of the TPS, it will not longer be the responsibility of the observer to concern themselves with monitoring weather conditions, only data quality. However, observers should be aware what TPS will do in terms of protecting the antenna in terms of bad weather conditions, which are listed below.

5.10.1 Storm Park

The site.alarms.Lightning[0-4] point names under the Alarm Manager tab in FROG shows the alarms range from simply indicating (distant) lightning has been detected (priority 0-1), through to an alarm indicating you should perhaps consider parking the antenna (priority 3-4). FROG will sound an alert for priority level 2 threats or higher. The observer should acknowledge these alarms and act appropriately, or if appropriate, shelve or de-shelve if required (i.e., if there is a false alarm).

For reference, if using Monica, the lightning threat (trigger) levels are (TPS equivalents in brackets):

A lightning threat level of moderate (or greater) triggers the Generator automatic start point in Monica, causing the TPS to start the generator and run for at least 15 minutes. If after 15 minutes, the lightning threat level is less than moderate the generator will stop and power will revert to mains (if available), otherwise it will run for further 15 minutes and so on.

If the threat level is moderate and there is no generator OR the level is severe, the generator will follow the same procedure above, but the antenna will also be stowed.

5.10.2 Automated Wind Park

The SERVO computer monitors the speed and direction of the wind from the paddock sensor, and will stow the dish automatically above limits defined in tab:wind_park to ensure the safety of the antenna. Winds can be monitored with FROG.

During an automated wind park, the antenna drives to an Azimuth that has the wind at least 60-degrees away from the back of the dish without driving into an Azimuth limit. If you are observing near one of the limits and there is an easterly wind this could involve driving up to 100 or so degrees. In addition, the antenna will drive to a (software limit) Zenith angle of 1.2 degrees. Note: If the wind is particualry high, the antenna can be driven into the Zenith hardware limit past 1.2 degrees. You will need to exit the limit using the "Unstow - ExLim" button on TCS. Note the MCP must be on computer remote.

                   Peak2 Gust Average 
Ane #1 (Az front)  58   54   42
Ane #1 (Az front)  58   54   42
Ane #1 (Az back)   46   42   35  
Ane #2 (Az front)  66   62   48
Ane #2 (Az back)   53   48   40

Table 5.2: Wind Park Algorithms

The Peak (2 consecutive readings), Gust (5 readings in the last 180), and Average (15 readings in the last 20) values (in km/hr) must be satisfied for a wind park to occur.

The “Az back” for each Anemometer are for winds within Azimuths 150 degrees < Az < 210 degrees (ie, winds within 30 degrees of the back of the antenna). The “Az front” values are for the remaining 300 degrees “front-on”sector.

A wind park holds the antenna at the software limit (Ze ~ 1.2 deg.) limit for 10 minutes until the countdown expires. At the end of this period the antenna is free to obey any pending or new commands.

There is also a "wind park mode" in TCS which is relevant only when using the DFBs in pulsar search mode. If enabled, TCS will attempt to complete a DFB search mode observation even if the antenna stops tracking due to a wind park, power failure, or manual override from the MCP. (This is to preserve the continuity of the time series). If the antenna becomes available before the observation has completed TCS will command it to return to the target position.

Once an automatic wind park has occurred, the antenna must not be unparked until permissible conditions have prevailed for at least 10 minutes. If conditions are poor, the antenna must be fully stowed.

5.10.3 Current Park

The wind has a greater effect on the Zenith motor currents of the dish at high Zenith angles and if it is directed either towards the surface or the back of the dish. The main problem is that a strong wind onto the back of the dish can "hold it down" causing the motor currents to reverse (the counter weight is heavier than the dish). In this case, you might receive a ’HIGH/LO Current Stow’ (as reported by SHOWTEL). In a physical sense, the low current condition is intended to detect overbalancing of the antenna when a strong wind blows into the back of the dish. The threshold for the low current condition is three occurances in 120 seconds where the magnitude between the Zenith motor currents is greater than 30 Amps. For the high current condition to be triggered, the sum of the Zenith currents must be less than -5 Amps for more than three seconds in the last 120 seconds where the antenna not slewiing upwards.

Once parked, you are required to wait at least 10 minutes to see if the conditions allow for observing to resume. Typically this is true if the peak wind is below 40 km/s, but it depends on the elevation of your source.

5.11 Power Supply

The Observatory has two sources of power. The principal power supply is provided from a recently installed (Dec 2012) 750kVA transformer, regulator and switchgear equipment. A 300kV diesel generator provides a backup supply to most circuits in the tower (and some elsewhere on site) in the event of mains failure. Some critical circuits have a further backup from an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) which can last up to 1 hour, supplying ctitical systems. Computers, electronics, clocks, masers and receiver systems are connected to the UPS protected circuits. There is also a drive UPS, which is used to stow the antenna in the event of various triggers determined by the TPS (see tab:tpsactions).

If the Country Energy mains fail, the generator should start automatically and provide power so that after a short interruption you will be able to resume observing. If the generator fails to start and the mains supply does not return, a timer will initiate and if it reaches two (2) minutes, the TPS will automatically stow the antenna using the drive UPS.

5.11.1 Monitoring Power - Monica

You can monitor the Mains and GenSet with Monica (Monica) by clicking on Parkes - Navigator - favourites - generators. Monica should be running on the fourth virtual desktop of the VNC server, JOFFREY:1 (you can install MoniCA using the link above). A screenshot of the generators display is below.


Figure 5.4: The Parkes generator monitor page in Monica.

The likely scenarios are dealt with separately below.

5.11.2 Power failure - Brief mains glitch

In this situation, due to the drive UPS, the MCP and the Azimuth and Zenith drives will not disable. The MCP remains under computer control. If the dish is still in lock capture range of the ME the antenna will reacquire lock and the drive can resume. On the MoniCA display, you should see the following:

5.11.3 Power failure - Generator starts automatically

If there is a failure of the mains for longer than a second, the generator should start automatically. Once it is up to speed it will be switched to supply the antenna. As the MCP is connected to the Drive UPS, the Azimuth and Zenith drives should still be enabled. On the Monica display display, you should see the following:

If both of these items are false, proceed as described in Severe Power Failure - no mains or generator.

5.11.4 Power failure - Mains Return

When the mains power is available again, and has been stable for a period of around 1 minute, the suppy will automatically revert from generator to mains. The MCP will remain on and because the generator synchronises with the mains on transfer back to mains power, it happens without a break, so the UPS suffers no break in input power.

5.11.5 Severe Power Failure - no mains or generator

The TPS continuously checks to see if there is power, whether it be from the mains or site generator. If the TPS does not receive an acknowlegement that there is power, from the mains OR the generator, the TPS will automatically stow the antenna using the drive UPS.

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Last updated by Stacy Mader on October 14, 2017