Co-hosting the SKA telescope

The SKA is a global big-science project to build the world’s largest and most capable radio telescopes.

During their more than 50-year lifetime, the SKA telescopes will:

  • expand our understanding of the universe
  • drive technological developments worldwide.

SKA procurement activities have started. We expect work on the ground to begin this year.

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

Hosting the SKA

Australia’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) will host the low-frequency telescope, SKA-Low. South Africa will host the mid frequency telescope, SKA-Mid.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) operates the MRO. SKA-Low will spread across 65km. It will consist of 131,072 antennas (512 arrays – each comprising 256 antennas).

The Australian SKA site is:

  • in remote Western Australia, around 800km north of Perth
  • part of the ancestral lands of the Wajarri Yamaji people
  • in the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA to protect the telescope 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

Over 1,000 engineers and scientists in 20 countries have been involved in the SKA’s design.

This includes building SKA precursor telescopes to develop and test new technologies:

These are powerful telescopes in their own right. They’re already performing cutting-edge scientific work and making significant discoveries.

Case studies from Australian companies

Australian companies have helped design the SKA and construct precursor telescopes. They’ve also engaged in spin-off applications of new technology developed for the SKA.

CSIRO commercialisation specialist and a founding Director of Quasar, Dr Ilana Feain, and Quasar CEO Phil Ridley stand in front of scientific equipment
Australian SKA Office

Commercialising technology developed for the Australian SKA Pathfinder

Quasar Satellite Technologies is commercialising multi-beam technology to meet booming demand for satellite ground stations. CSIRO developed the technology for its ASKAP radio telescope, a…
A green circular Phased Array Feed receiver, housed in white casing designed by Innovation Composites, sits on top of an ASKAP telescope dish pointing to the sky
Australian SKA Office

Designing receiver casings for the SKA Pathfinder

Case study from: Co-hosting the SKA telescope
Stacked computer hardware in a case with different coloured lights and wiring
Australian SKA Office

Cloud computing for SKA data

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research has been investigating cloud computing for SKA data storage and processing capabilities.

Furthering scientific discovery

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 SKAO website.

Developing 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 SKAO website.

Investing 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 included $387 million to meet Australia’s commitments as co-host of the SKA telescopes. This follows Australia’s ratification of the SKAO Convention.

The investment builds on $293.7m that the Australian Government provided in 2015 under the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). It recognised that science, research and innovation projects drive long-term economic prosperity, jobs and growth.