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Pune-based firm developing software to operate world’s largest ground telescope in Hawaii

ANJALI MARAR
The proposed Thirty Metre Telescope that is likely to be built on the Hawaii archipelago in the US.

A Pune-based IT firm is developing software for the world's largest ground-based telescope, the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT), which is likely to come up on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The telescope is being constructed jointly by India, US, China, Japan and Canada and is likely to become operational in the mid-2020s. India is building the telescope's complex optical structure, called the Segment Support Assembly (SSA), which will comprise 492 hexagonal mirror segments, collectively forming the primary mirror.

An eight-member team at the IT firm, ThoughtWorks, is designing three different software - Common Software Services (CSS), Data Management Services(DMS) and Executive Software (ES) - to deal with the control systems to manoeuvre the telescope and manage the big data that will be generated once it becomes operational.

Santosh Mahale, one of the co-heads of ThoughtWorks' Engineering for Research (E4R) initiative, told The Indian Express, "While the telescope is set for commissioning in a few years, the challenge is in developing software that will remain relevant in the future, too. We are focusing on designing software that will have automatic documentation and coding systems."

According to Gunjan Shukla, co-head for the E4R initiative, the IT industry in India is ready to take on such mega projects.

"Indian companies have grown and matured. Companies here are at par with their global counterparts in designing and innovating top-class software and hardware," said Shukla, who has been in the industry for two-and-a-half decades.

The team is also working on a project in the field of radioastronomy.

Recently, they signed up to develop software meant for data analysis of MeerKAT, a radio telescope that will come up in South Africa. This telescope will be a precursor version of the world's largest proposed radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is coming up in South Africa and Australia.

Mahale, however, dismissed the idea that ThoughtWorks was more keen on astronomy-related projects, saying it was "purely coincidental".

While the company is expected to hand over all its software for TMT by 2021, the team has nearly completed developing CSS, the design for DMS is ready and work on ES will commence this year.