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.
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.
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 government announced $294 million for the Square Kilometre Array, as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) in December 2015.
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
Last updated: 18 November 2020
Content ID: 46051