Formation of the new SKA Organization

Nov 23, 2011

23 November 2011, London, UK – PRESS RELEASE

Seven national governmental and research organisations today announced the formation of the SKA Organisation, an independent, not-for-profit company established to formalise relationships with international partners and centralise 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 Organisation 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 Organisation said: “I am delighted that the partners have recognised the scientific, economic and societal benefits that investing in international science projects like the SKA can bring.”

The new SKA Organisation 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 Organisation 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 Organisation following the retirement of Professor Schilizzi at the end of the year.

The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, fibre 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 organisations

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 Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

United Kingdom – Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)