SKA selection process unveiled

14 July 2011

The founding board of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project has announced the process and timeline for selection of the host site for the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

Sites in South Africa and Australia have been short-listed to host the central core of the SKA telescope. The SKA board of directors is expected to make a final decision on the location in early 2012.

The founding board, reporting at the SKA Forum 2011 in Banff, Canada last week, said the candidates’ submission of information to the SKA head office, which began in March, would run through September.

Between July and November, this information would be analysed by independent consultants, expert panels and the SKA head office.

Between November and December, the SKA Site Advisory Committee, an external body of independent experts, would evaluate the findings of the analysis and, between January and February 2012, submit a report and recommend a preferred site to the SKA board of directors.

The SKA board of directors would then, in February, make and announce its decision.

Selection criteria

“Selection of the host site for the SKA will be made in terms of characteristics for the best science as well as the capability and cost of supporting a very large infrastructure, taking the political and working environment into account,” SKA director Professor Richard Schilizzi told the SKA Forum in Banff.

Criteria that would be considered, according to a SKA project press release, would include “levels of radio frequency interference, the long term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical characteristics of the site, data network connectivity across the vast distances covered by the telescope, as well as operating and infrastructure costs.”

More than 70 institutes in 20 countries, together with industry partners, are participating in the scientific and technical design of the SKA telescope.

Its design, construction and operation will have a potentially massive impact on skills development in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the host countries but in all project partner countries.

South Africa ‘more than ready’

Addressing the forum earlier last week, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa was fully committed to the SKA project, and had already done considerable work in support of its bid to host the instrument.

“We have chosen an exceptionally good site for the SKA in a remote region of South Africa, a region with very little economic activity,” Pandor said. “We have provided statutory protection for the site through the Geographic Astronomy Advantage Act.”

If South Africa wins the bid, it stands to gain major international recognition in the fields of science and technology.

Pandor said important milestones related to the MeerKAT, South Africa’s SKA precursor telescope, had been achieved, many of them ahead of schedule.

“Our progress has allowed us to plan to publish tenders for Meerkat at the end of this year,” she said.

Pandor also said South Africa was committed to providing the world with the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere until the SKA is completed.

“We hope that the immense potential of MeerKAT will not be ignored when the most efficient and cost-effective roll-out for phase one of SKA is considered,” she said.

SAinfo reporter