Nine national governmental and research organizations have established a Founding Board for the global Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. The SKA is a €1.5 billion global science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Images credit SKA



Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and the U.K. signed a Letter of Intent in Rome, Italy, declaring their common ambition to see the SKA built and agreed to work together to secure funding for the next phase of the SKA project. The new Board has announced that the SKA Project Office (SPO) will be based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester in the United Kingdom. This new management structure will guide the project into the next phase of development.

The SKA will be capable of answering some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe.

The signatory parties represent organizations of national scale and will coordinate groups carrying out SKA research and development work in their respective countries. Further signatories are expected to come forward in the next six months.

Professor John Womersley, chair of the Founding Board, said: “Given the current economic environment, it is reassuring that so many partners have recognized the importance of supporting the SKA. Our partners have taken this step not only because of the inspirational nature of the discoveries that the SKA will make, but also because of the economic benefits that international megascience projects can bring to participating countries.”

The SPO, which is hoped to grow to 60 people over the next four years, will supersede the existing SKA Program Development Office (SPDO) currently based at the University of Manchester. The move to Jodrell Bank Observatory is scheduled for 1 January 2012.

Professor Richard Schilizzi, Director of the SKA, says: “The move to Jodrell Bank Observatory comes at a crucial time as the project grows from a concept to an international megascience project. The new location and facilities will support the significant expansion that is planned.”

The decision on the location of the SPO follows a competitive bidding process in which a number of excellent proposals were received, and was announced by the SKA Founding Board following an international review process.

The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, fiber networks, signal processing, and software and computing. Spin-off innovations in these areas will benefit other systems that process large volumes of data. The design, construction and operation of the SKA has the potential to impact skills development in science, engineering and in associated industries not only in the host countries but in all project partners.

The SKA telescope itself will be located in either Australia-New Zealand or Southern Africa. A decision on the location of the SKA telescope will be made in 2012.

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometer giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10,000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. With thousands of receptors extending out to distances of 3,000 km from the center of the telescope, the SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how galaxies have evolved since then, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. More than 70 institutes in 20 countries, together with industry partners, are participating in the scientific and technical design of the SKA telescope which will be located in either Australia-New Zealand or Southern Africa extending to the Indian Ocean Islands. The target construction cost is €1.5 billion and construction could start as early as 2016.

Founding Board

* Australia: Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
* China: National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences
* France: Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers du Centre
National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS-INSU)
* Germany: Bundesministerium fuer Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)
* Italy: Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica
* New Zealand: Ministry of Economic Development
* Republic of South Africa: Department: Science & Technology
* The Netherlands: Nederlandse Organizatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek
* United Kingdom: Science and Technology Facilities Council

via SKA

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