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SKA Project Director's Update – April 2021

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15 April 2021

Welcome to the Australian SKA Office update, where we share the latest developments on the SKA, a next-generation radio astronomy facility that will revolutionise our understanding of the Universe.

It’s a big day for the SKA in Australia!

The Australian Government has announced a major new investment in the SKA to support this global project to move into the construction phase. The investment includes funding for telescope construction and operations, the Australian SKA Regional Centre (SKA science data processing centre), and benefits for communities near the Western Australian telescope site.

The announcement of $387 million in funding over 10 years will ensure Australia meets its commitments to the SKA as it moves into the construction phase in the second half of this year, with construction due to begin on site in Western Australia in early 2022. Overall, hosting this internationally funded project will see $1.8 billion of additional foreign income flow into Australia over the coming 30 years.

The announcement includes a $64.4m investment in the Australian SKA Regional Centre (or AusSRC), a node of the global SKA Regional Centre network that will work with researchers to maximise scientific impact from SKA science data. This data processing centre will build expertise to handle the enormous flows of complex data from the SKA, securing opportunities for Australians to gain experience in advanced data analysis and other skills in demand in sectors from finance to mining.

The government also announced further investments in site readiness and local communities. This will ensure that Australia delivers a scientifically excellent telescope site while protecting Indigenous heritage. Part of the investment will leverage the Australian SKA site’s fibre optic connection to provide connectivity for two communities nearby to the site – the Pia Wadjarri Remote Aboriginal Community and the Murchison Settlement. This investment will support economic development in the region and protect the radio quietness of the Observatory.

This is exciting news for SKA and for Australia. The new budget measure will ensure that the project gets off to a fantastic start and that benefits flow to Australian researchers, businesses and communities.

In the coming months, we expect to start seeing the start of procurement opportunities managed by the international SKA Observatory, in preparation for work to begin at Australia’s SKA site early next year. As information becomes available about those processes we will share it with the Australasian SKA Industry Cluster (ASKAIC). You can find a link to sign up to ASKAIC and receive updates on the SKA webpage.

Even as we receive this good news, we acknowledge the impact of ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja upon communities in WA. All staff at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) and CSIRO facilities in Geraldton have confirmed they are safe. While power disconnections and road closures have caused some disruption, we have had no reports of serious damage at the MRO. Our thoughts are with local communities as they deal with the impact of this event.

Hosting this ambitious mega-science project in Australia is an honour and an opportunity. We have already seen big discoveries from the SKA precursors, many of them by research teams led by Australian scientists. Several Australian businesses have built their capacity by developing and manufacturing components for these cutting-edge instruments.

Today’s announcement makes us even more proud of what has been achieved and excited about what the future holds.

Ben Scandrett
Executive Manager
Australian SKA Office

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