Australian SKA Project Director's Update - August 2018

The Square Kilometre Array has been making headlines in the last couple of months as the project reached a number of major milestones.
Project Director David Luchetti sitting in an office, smiling and wearing glasses, a blue shirt and striped blue and red tie.

Australian SKA Project Director, David Luchetti.

The Square Kilometre Array has been making headlines in the last couple of months as the project reached a number of major milestones.

The inauguration on 13 July of the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope, Africa’s first precursor to the SKA, gained significant media attention around the world. The amazingly detailed image of the centre of the Milky Way released for the launch shows the impressive science capabilities of MeerKAT and gives us just a glimpse of what will be possible with the full SKA. The launch coincided with the SKA Board meeting in Cape Town, and I know Australia’s SKA Board member, Jane Urquhart, was delighted to be able to attend with the rest of the Board and to personally congratulate all involved on behalf of SKA Australia.

The SKA now has a nervous system! After four and a half years, the international consortium tasked with designing the crucial software that will control, monitor and operate the SKA telescopes concluded its work. The first of 12 consortia to complete their work package, Telescope Manager was led by India’s National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) and comprised nine institutions in seven countries, including our very own CSIRO. I congratulate the consortium on their hard work to bring the project one step closer to construction. Other design consortia are progressing well with the Signal Data Transport and the Infrastructure consortia for Australia and South Africa all expected to close next month.

It’s exciting to see more countries signing up to the SKA, with a consortium of French research institutions and industry becoming the 12th member of the SKA Organisation. France has already contributed greatly to the SKA project as an observer country through its involvement in the international design consortia, and all 11 of the SKA’s Science Working Groups.

Closer to home, you may have seen in the media the fantastic story about the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) being used as a passive radar system to help detect and track satellites and space junk, helping to protect billion-dollar assets in space. This collaboration between astronomers at the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and Adelaide start-up Silentium Defence is a great example of the potential of the SKA to provide non-astronomy spin-off benefits with good commercialisation prospects. I look forward to many more stories like this into the future!

The 27th meeting of the SKA Board of Directors took place on 11-12 July 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Board was updated on progress towards establishing the new Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO). As part of the process to establish the IGO, Australia (along with several other countries) is expected to sign the SKA Convention in a ceremony to be scheduled for later this year in Italy.

Discussions in Cape Town also covered progress on SKA design work, plans for the bridging phase (between the end of design and the start of construction), planning for transitioning between the current SKA Organisation and the future SKA Observatory (the new IGO), and the potential role of SKA regional centres. The next such meeting will be an interim Board meeting in September by video, with an in-person meeting scheduled for 13-14 November 2018 at the new SKA Headquarters in Manchester.

If you’re heading to the International Astronomical Union 30th General Assembly in Vienna from 20–31 August, be sure to drop in to the Australian Astronomy booth to say g’day. The booth represents the Australian SKA office and six Australian astronomy research organisations—Astronomy Australia Limited, Siding Spring Observatory (ANU), ASTRO 3D, CSIRO and ICRAR.

And don’t forget to visit the SKA booth as well to chat to the SKAO team and get the very latest on the project.


David Luchetti, Australian SKA Project Director

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