News that Australia and CSIRO will play an important role in the delivery of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has been welcomed by the CSIRO Staff Association.
The SKA is an international project to build the world’s largest network of radio telescopes.
Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski said that the decision was important for world science as well as for the science community in Australia.
“This long awaited news is welcomed and credit must be given to the many dedicated people involved in the Australasian bid,” Mr Popovski said.
The project – estimated to cost nearly $2 billion – will create the world’s largest radio telescope by building many thousands of radio-wave antennas arrayed over a square kilometre, all linked by optical fibre.
Construction will occur in two phases over an estimated fifteen year period.
The first phase, commencing in 2016, will involve the further development of CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, already home to the Australian Square Kilometere Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) and Murchison Widefield Array.
“Australia will build another 60 dishes in Phase 1 equipped with the CSIRO developed Phased Array Feeds and around 4,000 low frequency antennae (and) South Africa would build a further 190 dishes,” CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark said.
Professor Peter Quinn, director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research anticipated that the first phase of the build would be complete and operational by 2020.
“We’ll pause and make a decision about what phase two is going to look like and then we’ll deploy phase two and that will be operational, we hope, around 2024, 2025,” Professor Quinn said.
The second phase involves the building of the medium-high frequency arrays in South Africa while the Australasian team constructs a low frequency array locally.
Ms Clark said that the SKA decision would help keep Australia on the world map when it came to astronomy.
“We should all be very proud to be part of the efforts that will see Australia and New Zealand remain at the forefront of global radio astronomy,” Ms Clark said.
Mr Popovski paid tribute to the leading role played by ASKAP researchers in the bid process.
“I have written to the SKA Project Director – CSIRO’s Dr Brian Doyle – offering my congratulations on behalf of CSIRO Staff Association members,” he said.
“We’ve also asked for a briefing on the potential implication of the decision on staffing and related issues, like regional capabilities.
“It’s important that we gain a better understanding of the foreseeable impacts on staffing, resources and time frames and the Staff Association will have our delegates from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS) involved in the briefing process,” Mr Popovski said.