Australian SKA Project Director's Update – December 2019

David Luchetti shares the latest updates from the Australian Square Kilometre Array Office and international teams.
A technician adjusts telescope equipment.

The SKALA-4 design test array. Image credit: ICRAR/ Curtin University.

Welcome to the 2019 holiday edition of the Australian SKA Project Director’s Update, where I give a rundown on developments in building the next generation of radio astronomy capability.

As we reach the end of 2019, I’d like to start by thanking everyone who has contributed to making this a momentous year for the SKA. We’ve seen significant progress made in every area of the project, particularly as we close in on a final telescope design.

In fact, we’re getting very close to finalising exactly what the many tens of thousands of antennas in Australia will look like. Project scientists and engineers from our global partners have been spending time at the SKA site to test the latest antenna prototypes. Check out the SKALA-4 design test array in the photo.

The technical specifications for the other components of the telescopes are also close to completion. The SKA-Mid dish design is nearly complete and we’ve recently used the world’s fastest supercomputer to test SKA data processing pipelines, resulting in never achieved before speeds of 400 gigabytes per second.

Just last week, the project achieved a major milestone with the closeout of the System Critical Design Review. An independent panel of external reviewers endorsed the SKA’s overall design, including how all parts of the SKA will work and interact with one another. This is the culmination of around six years of work involving hundreds of engineers and scientists in 20 countries and close to 300 institutions around the world.

In 2020, another significant milestone will be the establishment of the SKA Observatory, which will be the intergovernmental organisation responsible for building and operating the two telescopes.

The observatory can only be created once the three host countries (Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom), as well as two other member countries, have ratified the SKA Observatory Convention which outlines member’s commitments to the new organisation. Australia took a big step towards its ratification on 3 December 2019, when the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties handed down a report endorsing Australia’s continued participation in the project. The report has now been sent to the Federal Executive Council, presided over by Australia’s Governor General, to make the final decision, which we expect to happen early next year.

With the Netherlands having already ratified and South Africa, the United Kingdom, China, Italy and Portugal making significant process, we’re on track to have the new observatory established by mid-next year.

One of the jobs of the new observatory will be to award construction contracts and Australia is currently in negotiations will other member countries to establish which work packages we’ll be responsible for leading and which ones we’ll be providing input to.

Once again, I’d like to thank the many people who have helped with the project over the past 12 months. With the finalisation of all the designs and development of a construction proposal, and the establishment of the Observatory, 2020 promises to be an even bigger year for the SKA. So, for all those involved, have a relaxing and safe break. I’m incredibly excited about next year, and I hope you are too.


David Luchetti
Australian SKA Project Director

Photo of David Luchetti

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