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International partners join forces for SKA telescope

International partners join forces and agree on funding for detailed final design of Square Kilometre Array telescope
World’s biggest telescope project takes crucial step forward as it forms company to run project

Published by the editorial team, 23 November 2011

even national governmental and research organizations today announced the formation of the SKA Organization, an independent, not-for-profit company established to formalize relationships with international partners and centralize the leadership of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project. The signatories from Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK plan to spend €69M (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 Organization and commit additional resources in the next six months.

The SKA is a €1.5 billion global science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Scientists and engineers from around the world, together with industry partners, are participating in research and development for the SKA which will be capable of answering some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe. The SKA will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth.

Professor John Womersley, Chair of the founding board that prepared the formation of the SKA Organization said: “I am delighted that the partners have recognized the scientific, economic and societal benefits that investing in international science projects like the SKA can bring.”

The new SKA Organization 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.

Professor Richard Schilizzi, Director of the SKA project 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 Organization 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 (SPDO) currently based at the University. Dr. Michiel van Haarlem is to be appointed Interim Director General of the new SKA Organization following the retirement of Professor Schilizzi at the end of the year.

The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, fiber networks, signal processing, software and computing, and power. The design, construction and operation of the SKA have the potential to impact skills development, employment and economic growth in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the host countries but in all partner countries. The SKA telescope itself will be located in either Australia-New Zealand or South Africa and other African countries. A decision on the location of the SKA telescope will be made in 2012.

Signatory organizations:

Australia – Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
China – National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Italy – National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF)
New Zealand – Ministry of Economic Development
Republic of South Africa – National Research Foundation (NRF)
The Netherlands – Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO)
United Kingdom – Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)


Country-Specific Contacts:

Jerry Skinner
Public Affairs Officer
Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
+61 2 6213 6298; mobile: +61 410 221 806

Lijia Liu
National Astronomical Observatories
Chinese Academy of Sciences

Francesco Rea
Head of Public and Media Relations Office, INAF
+39 06 35533 227; mobile: +39 335 135 8069

New Zealand
Miles Erwin, Senior Communications Advisor
Ministry of Economic Development
+64 297 710 013; mobile: +64 4 474 2891

Republic of South Africa
Mr. Tommy Makhode
South African Department of Science and Technology
+27 12 843 6793; mobile: +27 82 379 8268
Thabiso Nkone
NRF, South Africa
+27 12 481 41 49; mobile: +27 83 494 2322

The Netherlands
Information and Communication Department, NWO
+31 703440741

United Kingdom
Stephanie Hills
Media Manager, STFC
+44 (0)1235 445398; mobile: +44 (0)7825 113719


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 centre 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 South Africa and other African countries. The target construction cost is €1.5 billion and construction could start as early as 2016.



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