Australian SKA Project Director Update

March 2015: I recently attended the SKA Board and Members meetings (3-6 March) where the outcome of the ‘rebaselining’ process to shape the design of the SKA was discussed and adopted as a starting point for intergovernmental negotiations to fund the construction and operations of the SKA.

It has been clear for some time that SKA Phase 1 as initially conceived is not possible within the agreed budget.  Accordingly, the project has focussed on a couple of science programs (pulsars, Epoch of Reionisation) thought most likely to produce transformational results and developed a telescope design capable of delivering on these projects.  Cuts have had to be made to both Australian and South African-based infrastructure, but the result is the design for a powerful telescope in each location. South Africa will host the ‘SKA-Mid’ array of dish antennas and Australia will be home to the ‘SKA-Low’ array of static low frequency antennas.   

In addition to the two telescopes, the SKA Board has included in their design an investment in the development of advanced survey technology that Australia’s CSIRO has been at the forefront of for many years.  This includes investment in Phased Array Feed development as part of the SKA1 construction budget and the proposed support of ASKAP operations in the future. 

It is this mix of transformational projects and transformational capability that will best allow the SKA to deliver its mandate of transformational science. Targeting specific science goals will not by itself achieve a truly transformational science agenda, as it has long been acknowledged that the biggest discoveries the SKA will make are ones we haven’t considered yet.   

It would be foolish not to recognise that significant scientific capability has been cut as a result of the rebaselining.  Nevertheless, the Board has shown a commitment to the cost cap and making tough decisions within that cap. 

The SKA will still remain the world’s most powerful radio telescope when it is built.

For more details, refer to the latest media release on the international SKA website.




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