Australian SKA Project Director's Update

November 2017

There’s always a great deal of activity around the international SKA Organisation Board meetings, and the recent one in Bologna, Italy, on 8-9 November was no different. The consultation process within Australia prior to a meeting of the international SKA Board generally begins with a meeting of the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Australian-New Zealand SKA Coordination Committee (ANZSCC) to seek advice from the science community. The Chair of the SAC then reports the outcomes at a meeting of the ANZSCC itself, which includes representatives from the Australian, New Zealand and Western Australian Governments, CSIRO, and ICRAR, as well as a range of expert members.

The SKA Board meeting was led by new Chair, Dr Catherine Cesarsky, following her recent appointment to the Board. Although Dr Cesarsky is new to the project, her distinguished background in astronomy governance provides a very useful perspective to the deliberations and governance of the Board.

Over the two days of the meeting, the Board discussed several issues including further development of the operational plan for the telescopes and planning to bridge from pre-construction to construction. The operational plan is a significant priority for the Board, including further examination of the proposed operations costs for the project. The Board moved to establish an external review panel to assist the SKA Office in benchmarking its model for operations.

The Board was also supportive of the SKA Organisation’s proposal for bridging from pre-construction to construction, or in more concrete terms, moving from the design to the construction phase. The SKA Office will be presenting detailed plans at the next Board meeting in April 2018 on these and other issues and I look forward to updating you on those developments.

Other good news from the meeting is that Spain has now indicated its intention to apply for membership of the SKA Organisation in coming months, initially as an associate member but with a view to full membership.

In other news, it was a great privilege to be at Wooleen Station in the Mid West on 19 October to witness the formal recognition of the Wajarri Yamaji’s claim over their country, which includes the future site of Australia’s SKA Low antennas. Over 300 people attended the ceremony, and we were treated to moving performances by Traditional Owners as part of the celebrations. I’d like to congratulate the Wajarri people on this excellent outcome. 

Last month the design of the synchronisation systems for both SKA Low and SKA Mid were selected by the SKA Organisation. The SKA Low system was designed by Tsinghua University in Beijing, and the Perth-based International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has been successful in developing the system chosen for SKA Mid. ICRAR researchers designed the optical fibre-based synchronisation system to achieve a precision level greater than five parts in a trillion. Congratulations to everyone involved in this achievement.

Since my last Director’s Update we had an eventful week at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, from 25-29 September. The SKA and its Australian-based precursor telescopes were showcased throughout the IAC, at the Australian Government and CSIRO booths and in a number of technical presentations. The Australian SKA Office also organised a panel of highly-regarded Australian Astronomers, chaired by the well-known astrophysicist Alan Duffy.

Shared Sky is back on Australian shores, launched in mid-September to coincide with the IAC. This collaborative exhibition features art by indigenous and local artists from Australia and South Africa in the areas around the SKA telescope sites. If you’re in Adelaide, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to visit Shared Sky at the South Australia Museum, where it will be on display until early 2018.



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