Australian SKA Project Director's Update – August 2019

David Luchetti, the Australian SKA Project Director, shares the latest updates from the Australian and international teams.
Aerial photo of the SKA office

Square Kilometre Array Office

Welcome to the latest update on building the next generation of radio astronomy capability.

For years I’ve been providing updates on progress towards building the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, but really the SKA is bigger than that. The SKA Observatory is due to be established in mid-2020. Its purpose is not just to manage the two SKA telescope arrays currently being designed, but to facilitate a global approach to cutting-edge radio astronomy for generations to come. Getting the SKA Observatory right is the crucial first step in delivering on its member countries’ astronomical ambitions.

The SKA partnership is working together to develop a range of foundational policies around things like membership, telescope access, procurement, intellectual property and operations. All of these will be considered by the SKA Observatory Council when it comes into being.

A focus for the SKA partnership at the moment is the procurement policy for the construction phase. The SKA Office near Manchester has developed a ‘hybrid procurement model’. This will allow SKA members to negotiate for some contracts to be allocated for delivery within their countries, alongside competitive tendering. A key intent is to provide some certainty for members that they can maintain their interests in areas where they have made significant contributions to telescope design.

Procurement activities aren’t expected until at least late 2020, so to assist Australian companies to prepare for these contracts, my office is working with the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme to develop a ‘toolbox’ of services. This includes a diagnostic tool that will help businesses self-assess their ‘Big Science’ project readiness. Companies wishing to be kept informed of these developments are encouraged to register their interest by joining the Australasian Square Kilometre Array Industry Cluster. Details on how to join are available on our website.

In news from Manchester, the SKA Organisation (and Observatory when created) has a new home!

The iconic Jodrell Bank Observatory has been inaugurated as the SKA’s global headquarters. The facility will serve as a central hub for the more than 1000 experts working to deliver this global project. The Observatory will be responsible for making the final decisions on the SKA’s design as well as coordinating the contracts needed to build the telescopes and associated infrastructure.

Australian institutions are continuing to shine on the astronomical world stage.

On 15 July 2019, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) was awarded the winner of the SKA’s first Science Data Challenge. Nine teams representing 12 institutions in eight countries took part in the challenge to analyse a series of high resolution images of the radio sky created through data simulations. They used software of their choosing to find, identify and classify the sources. Congratulations to all the researchers involved in this terrific achievement.

Finally, I’d like to remind everyone that this week is National Science Week.

If you haven’t already tweeted a selfie of yourself in your workplace, it’s not too late. This is a great opportunity for us to encourage the next generation of scientists and researchers by promoting the studying of STEM subjects. Just remember to include the hashtags #scienceweek and #STEMgotmehere.


David Luchetti
Australian SKA Project Director

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