Welcome to the Australian SKA Project Director’s Update, where I give a rundown on developments in building the next generation of radio astronomy capability.
This week, the SKA project reached a major milestone, with the final piece of the puzzle now in place to establish the SKA Observatory, the international organisation that will build and operate world-leading radio telescopes for generations to come.
On Wednesday, the United Kingdom announced its ratification of the SKA Observation Convention, which finalises its legal preparations to join the Observatory.
With four other countries (the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and Italy) having already ratified, the Observatory will now be established in mid-January, and the governing Council will meet for the first time soon after.
The SKA Observatory Council will be charged with approving the final design of the SKA telescopes and agreeing a funding schedule between participating partners, ahead of starting the construction phase in mid-2021. With initial procurement activities taking place in the second half of next year, the timeline would see work happening at Australia’s site at the beginning of 2022.
The milestone is also symbolic of the SKA’s strength as an international collaboration. It joins other international organisations such as CERN and the European Southern Observatory in pursuing world-leading scientific capability through the contributions of many. It’s a good club to be part of.
Besides the fantastic scientific discoveries the SKA will make, its construction and operations will generate significant economic activity in Australia and in partner countries around the world. All member countries will share in the contracts to build the telescopes and associated infrastructure.
While the details are still to be finalised, we know a large part of Australia’s allocations will see Australian businesses involved in the infrastructure development at Australia’s site, as well as aspects of the antenna station deployment.
There will also be Australian institutions and businesses involved in the data management work packages.
I encourage any business that is interested in receiving information during 2021 about contract opportunities, to join the Australasian SKA Industry Cluster (ASKAIC).
It is also a great idea to keep an eye on the SKA Organisation Recruitment Portal for upcoming opportunities to join the SKA team.
There are current vacancies in engineering, procurement, software, operations and finance. Of particular note is the current recruitment for the Low Telescope Director, a lead position in Australia.
We expect a range of SKA positions to become available in Australia and overseas as we head towards the start of construction.
On a personal note, after 11 years in this positon, I will be moving to a new job in 2021. Ben Scandrett, who has held various roles in the Australian SKA Office for the past decade, and who many of you will know, will replace me as Executive Manager of the Australian SKA Office. I’m sure he’ll be in touch with you regularly to provide updates in what will be a very exciting year for the project.
I’d like to thank everyone who has been associated with Australia’s involvement in the SKA to date. From the bidding process, through to design and now implementation, it’s been a fantastic journey. I can’t express how impressed I am with the number of brilliant young astronomers I’ve met over the years.
The SKA will be a great tool for them (and the following generations) and I’m looking forward to seeing Nobel prizes flowing from their work.
Happy holidays to you all and stay safe.
Australian SKA Project Director