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Location chosen for world’s largest telescope

25 May 2012

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is planned to be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, capable of helping answer questions about the early formation of the Universe.

After a detailed evaluation process to find the best possible site for this exciting proposed facility, the members of the SKA Organisation today agreed on a dual site solution for the Square Kilometre Array telescope, a crucial step towards building the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

The ASKAP and MeerKAT precursor dishes will be incorporated into Phase I of the SKA which will deliver more science and will maximise on investments already made by both Australia and South Africa.

The majority of SKA dishes in Phase I will be built in South Africa, combined with MeerKAT. Further SKA dishes will be added to the ASKAP array in Australia. All the dishes and the mid frequency aperture arrays for Phase II of the SKA will be built in Southern Africa while the low frequency aperture array antennas for Phase I and II will be built in Australia.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "This agreement marks an important phase in the development of the Square Kilometre Array. The decision for a dual site maximises use of the investments already made in both locations. It also ensures that all the great experience already gained can be put to best use designing and delivering the next phase of the project, in which UK scientists will play a key role.
 
“I'm grateful to the SKA Members, especially South Africa and the Australia-New Zealand consortium, for their willingness to engage in such constructive discussions, united by a common purpose - delivering inspirational science from the SKA."

For full details on site selection process please see the SKA project press release.

 “This is great news for the UK,” said Paul Alexander, Professor of radio astronomy and Head of the Astrophysics Group at Cambridge University. “SKA will help us to answer questions about how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, and how they have evolved, as well as the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and possibly even whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe. The prospect of UK scientists like myself taking a leading role in the discovery of such important new science is really exciting.”

Richard Schilizzi, Professor of radio astronomy and Head of the SKA Group in the University of Manchester, added: “The SKA will be one of the top global science projects of the 21st century. The findings of this project will benefit many other areas, such as information and communication technologies (ICT), wireless communication, sensor technology and renewable energy.”

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is providing funding for the UK’s involvement in the project’s detailed design phase, enabling UK institutes (Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester) and industry to participate in the international work collaborations needed to progress SKA to construction readiness. STFC also provides funding to support operation of the SKA Project Office, based at Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester.

“This hugely important step for the project allows us to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope.” said Dr Michiel van Haarlem, Interim Director General of the SKA Organisation.

STFC Chief Executive Professor John Womersley, who chairs the SKA Board of Directors, said:  “This decision was reached after very careful consideration of information gathered from extensive investigations at both candidate sites in South Africa and Australia-New Zealand.”

Factors taken into account during the site selection process included levels of radio frequency interference, the long term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical characteristics of the site, long distance data network connectivity, the operating and infrastructure costs as well as the political and working environment.


The agreement was reached by the Members of the SKA Organisation who did not bid to host the SKA (the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands). The Office of the SKA Organisation will now lead a detailed definition period to clarify details of the implementation.


Scientists and engineers from the UK and around the world, together with industry partners, are participating in the SKA project which is driving technology development in antennas, data transport, software and computing, and power. The influence of the SKA project extends beyond radio astronomy. The design, construction and operation of the SKA have the potential to impact skills development, employment and economic growth in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the host countries but in all partner countries.
 

Notes for editors

Corinne Mosese
Press Officer
STFC Polaris House, Swindon
Email: Corinne.Mosese@stfc.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)1793 442870/07557 317200

If you have an urgent out of hours enquiry, please call the duty press officer on 07092 982664

For organisational comments, contact SKA Project Office
Jo Bowler, Interim Outreach Officer,
Office of the SKA Organisation, UK
Office: +44 (0)161 275 4239    
Mobile: +44(0)759 307 7153     
Email: bowler@skatelescope.org

For science comments from the UK, contact:

Richard Schilizzi
Professor of radio astronomy and Head of the SKA Group in the University of Manchester
+44(0)7500 127068
Richard.Schilizzi@manchester.ac.uk

Andrew Faulkner
Project Engineer, University of Cambridge
+44(0)7710 474475
ajf@mrao.cam.ac.uk

Tim O’Brien
Associate Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory
07963 624162
Tim.OBrien@manchester.ac.uk

Paul Alexander
Professor of radio astronomy and Head of the Astrophysics Group at University of Cambridge
07585 000894
pa@mrao.cam.ac.uk