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Co-hosting the Square Kilometre Array
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a global big-science project to build the world’s largest and most capable radio telescope. During its more than 50 year lifetime, the SKA will expand our understanding of the universe and drive technological developments worldwide.
The project is in the pre-construction phase.
About the SKA
Learn more about the telescopes in our video about the Square Kilometre Array.
The Square Kilometre Array, or SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope on Earth.
Two complementary radio telescopes, located in Western Australia and South Africa, will use different types of antennas to ‘tune in’ radio frequencies
Low frequency radio waves will be received in Australia by more than 131,000 Christmas tree-like antennas, stretching over the horizon
Mid frequency radio waves will be received in South Africa by around 200 dishes
Radio emissions from the furthest reaches of space, reach Earth…and are detected by the SKA telescopes.
These are converted to digital signals and sent through fibre optic cables to supercomputers for processing into images and information for researchers.
The amount of raw data coming from the telescopes will be amazing – nearly 1 Terabyte per second – that’s like downloading 10 ultra-high definition films, every second.
This data will help answer some big questions:
Why is the expansion of the universe accelerating?
Does Einstein’s theory of general relativity hold up everywhere in the universe - especially places with extreme gravitational fields?
What did the universe look like billions of years ago when the first galaxies formed?
Is there life elsewhere in the universe?
But the most exciting part about the SKA telescope? It will answer questions we haven’t even thought of yet!
To find out more about the SKA, its purpose, and who is helping bring this massive science project to life, visit www.ska.gov.au
A global collaboration
Australia and South Africa will each host SKA telescopes. The SKA Organisation leads the global project. It is headquartered in the United Kingdom and comprises organisations from 15 countries.
This video, produced by the SKA Organisation, features interviews with engineers, astronomers and team leaders around the world. Read more about the international project
What did the Universe look like when the first galaxies formed?
How are planets formed?
How many gravitational waves are passing through me right now?
And for me the most important – is there life out there?
We’re building what will be the largest science facility ever built by mankind.
What we’re talking about is two telescopes.
These are going to spread out over literally hundreds of kilometres.
It’ll stretch out beyond the horizon.
Our site’s the middle of the Western Australia desert, far away from towns, radio interference.
We’re building hundreds of dishes in a remote location in the middle of South Africa.
It’s a hot environment, it’s a dry environment, it’s really tough.
Projects like this can only happen when we work together on a global scale.
We need astronomers to define the scope of the instrument.
We’ve got to get 500 engineers to work together over 20 countries in all the time zones in the world.
How do we build this?
It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle but the pieces keep changing.
Part A being designed in one place fits to Part B being designed literally on the other side of the world.
We’ve already started, we’ve got antennas at the site.
There’s equipment on the ground in South Africa and Australia.
Imagine the amount of data that’s flowing through the internet at any one moment.
Huge amounts of data.
That kind of level coming out steadily.
About a terabyte of data per second.
We’ll have total of 100,000 kilometres of dedicated fibre within the Observatory.
But the greatest computing burden is to take those data streams and to make sense of them.
Every year we’ll be distributing up to 700 petabytes of data.
There’s this huge range of science we’ll be tackling there’s the technology that needs to be developed to do that science.
Practically every subject of astrophysics can advance thanks to SKA.
It’s from science, to technology, to societal benefits, this is what engages countries.
SKA is a project that will be used for 20, 30, 50 years.
You want to be part of this fantastic adventure of the human mind.
I believe we're truly on the threshold of the future.
Science speaks all languages and connects the entire world.
This signature is the real beginning.
I think people will look back and think this is the moment the SKA Observatory was created.
Hosting the SKA
The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) will host the low frequency part of the telescope, SKA-Low. South Africa will host the mid frequency component, SKA-Mid. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) operates the MRO. The SKA-Low will be spread across an area spanning 65km and will consist of 130,000 antennas.
The SKA site is:
- located in remote Western Australia, around 800km north of Perth
- situated on part of the ancestral lands of the Wajarri Yamaji people
- ideally positioned in the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA to protect the SKA from radio interference from electronic devices
The Wajarri Yamaji have played an important role in enabling Australia to co-host the SKA. The Australian SKA Office and CSIRO are working with the Wajarri Yamaji to negotiate a land use agreement to access the site and realise the SKA Project on Wajarri Yamaji country.
Designing the SKA
Groups from all around the world are working together to design and deliver the telescope infrastructure.
The Global Design Consortia is tasked with designing specific components of the telescope.
SKA precursor telescopes are testing technologies and informing the design of the SKA:
- CSIRO operates the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope (ASKAP).
- An international collaboration of universities and research institutions, led by Curtin University, operates the Murchison Widefield Array.
These are powerful telescopes in their own right and are already making discoveries.
SKA science goals
The SKA aims to answer some of the biggest questions in astronomy. Its unparalleled sensitivity, resolution and scanning speed will enable scientific discoveries in key areas:
- Galaxy evolution, cosmology and dark energy - why is the universe expanding?
- Gravity in pulsars and black holes - does Einstein's general relativity hold in the most extreme areas of the universe?
- The cosmic dawn - what did the young universe look like?
- Life beyond earth - if life is out there, what does it look like?
Read more about SKA science goals on the SKA Organisation website.
Driving new technologies
Radio astronomy has led to the development of new technologies with applications in important fields such as computer science, medical imaging, and advanced manufacturing. Similarly, the SKA is expected to generate spin-off technologies with broad applications.
Astronomers will analyse SKA data to realise the SKA science goals. The unprecedented flow of data from the antennas will require supercomputing power surpassing today’s best technology. The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Western Australia will house the facility.
Read about SKA technology on the SKA Organisation website.
Australian investment in science infrastructure
Government investment in next-generation science infrastructure is ensuring Australia continues to make world-class discoveries and collaborates on major international science projects.
The 2021-22 Federal Budget will include $387.1 million to meet Australia’s commitments as co-host of the SKA Observatory.
This builds on $293.7m that the Australian Government provided in 2015 under the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). This investment recognised that science, research and innovation projects can drive long-term economic prosperity, jobs and growth.
Case studies from Australian companies
Australian companies have contributed to the design of the SKA, construction of precursor telescopes, or engaged in spin-off applications of existing infrastructure.
Read the cases studies:
- Astronomers and Silentium Defence are using the MWA to detect and track satellites and space junk to evaluate the risk of collisions.
- The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is investigating Cloud computing for SKA data storage and processing capabilities.
- Balance Unity Solutions is working to deliver the power requirements for the Low Frequency Aperture Array component of the SKA.
- Innovation Composites and CSIRO designed receiver casings for Australia’s SKA Pathfinder telescope that are lighter and more cost-effective the previous designs.
- CSIRO worked with Puzzle Precision to produce circuit boards and major components for Australia’s SKA Pathfinder digital systems.
- CSIRO worked with Thermacore, via local agents, to prototype a groundplane for maintaining a low and stable temperature for the ASKAP Phased Array Feed.
- The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties ratified the Convention establishing the Square Kilometre Array Observatory. Read the Australian Government response.
- Catch up on SKA project news and astronomy updates
- Find astronomy jobs on the SKA head office job board or European Southern Observatory recruitment portal
Connect with us
- Subscribe to our Astronomy in Australia Newsletter from Astronomer-at-large Fred Watson
- Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SKA_Australia
- Join the Australasian Square Kilometre Array Industry Cluster for project updates, networking and other opportunities
Email ska [at] industry.gov.au
- Square Kilometre Array Project
Last updated: 15 April 2021
Content ID: 46051