South Africa and Australia will both host parts of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is planned to be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, capable of helping answer questions about the early formation of the Universe.
The members of the SKA Organisation have agreed on a dual-site solution, building on investments already made by both bidders and ending the competition between them.
The ASKAP and MeerKAT precursor dishes will be incorporated into Phase I of the SKA. The majority of Phase I dishes will be built in South Africa, combined with MeerKAT, but further dishes will also be added to the ASKAP array in Australia.
All the dishes and the mid-frequency aperture arrays for Phase II of the SKA will be built in Southern Africa while the low-frequency aperture array antennas for Phase I and II will be built in Australia.
“This hugely important step for the project allows us to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope.” said Dr Michiel van Haarlem, Interim Director General of the SKA Organisation.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is providing funding for the UK’s involvement in the project’s detailed design phase, enabling UK institutes (Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester) and industry to participate in the international work collaborations needed to progress SKA to construction readiness. STFC also provides funding to support operation of the SKA Project Office, based at Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester.
STFC Chief Executive Professor John Womersley, who chairs the SKA Board of Directors, said: “This decision was reached after very careful consideration of information gathered from extensive investigations at both candidate sites in South Africa and Australia-New Zealand.”
Factors taken into account during the site selection process included levels of radio frequency interference, the long term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical characteristics of the site, long distance data network connectivity, the operating and infrastructure costs as well as the political and working environment.
The agreement was reached by members of the SKA Organisation who did not bid to host the SKA (Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom). The Office of the SKA Organisation will now lead a detailed definition period to clarify details of the implementation.
Scientists and engineers from around the world, together with industry partners, are participating in the SKA project which is driving technology development in antennas, data transport, software and computing, and power.
The total collecting area of the telescope will be approximately one square kilometre, giving 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3000km from the centre of the telescope.
The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about the Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth.