3 January 2012
The world’s biggest telescope project has taken a crucial step forward, with its international partners joining forces and agreeing funding for the detailed design of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
The SKA is a €1.5-billion global science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Scientists, engineers and industry partners from around the world are collaborating on research and development for the SKA, which will be capable of answering some of the most fundamental questions about the universe.
South Africa, allied with eight other African countries, is competing against Australia (allied with New Zealand) to host the SKA. The decision on the host country is due to be announced in early 2012.
On 23 November, seven national governmental and research organisations announced the formation of the SKA Organisation, an independent, not-for-profit company established to formalise relationships with international partners and centralise the leadership of the SKA project.
The signatories – from Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK – plan to spend €69-million (including in-kind contributions) to fund the project in the period leading up to the construction phase, which starts in 2016.
Further signatories are expected to join the SKA Organisation and commit additional resources over the next six months.
Professor John Womersley, chair of the founding board that prepared the formation of the SKA Organisation, said in a statement: “I am delighted that the partners have recognised the scientific, economic and societal benefits that investing in international science projects like the SKA can bring.”
The new SKA Organisation will directly employ staff, have the power to make legally binding decisions and lead the work of the international partners on the design of the telescope.
Outgoing SKA project director Professor Richard Schilizzi said: “We are keen to start reaping the rewards that this new structure will bring, not only to the engineering development work, but to the project as a whole.”
The office of the SKA Organisation will be located in purpose-built premises funded by the University of Manchester at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, UK.
The office will take over from the SKA Program Development Office currently based at the University. Dr Michiel van Haarlem was appointed interim director-general of the new SKA Organisation following Schilizzi’s retirement in December.
The SKA project is expected drive technology development in antennas, fibre networks, signal processing, software and computing, and power. The design, construction and operation of the SKA has the potential to boost skills development, employment and economic growth in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the SKA host countries but in all partner countries.
The SKA signatory organisations are:
- Australia – Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
- China – National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences
- Italy – National Institute for Astrophysics
- New Zealand – Ministry of Economic Development
- Republic of South Africa – National Research Foundation
- The Netherlands – Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research
- United Kingdom – Science and Technology Facilities Council