Australian SKA Project Director's Update

September 2017

I was pleased to join Australia’s Science Minister, Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO, and Western Australian Science Minister, The Hon Dave Kelly MLA, on a tour of Australia’s SKA site last month. Both ministers were impressed by the facilities and infrastructure on site, particularly acknowledging the extensive efforts to establish the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) as SKA precursor telescopes. A big thank you to all the CSIRO and ICRAR personnel that supported the visit.

A couple of days earlier, Minister Sinodinos also enjoyed a tour of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth, including meeting some of the small businesses benefiting from Pawsey supercomputing capability.

On the international front, the SKA partner countries are approaching an important milestone as they move closer to agreeing to the terms of the treaty (the SKA Convention) to establish the SKA Observatory (the intergovernmental organisation that will oversee SKA construction and operations). Individual countries have different processes and timings in signing up to the Convention, but we expect the first signatures this year and for the SKA Observatory to be formally established later next year.

Along with strong commitment by the existing partner countries, a range of non-member countries attended the July 2017 SKA Organisation Board Meeting in the Netherlands and gave strong indications about plans to join the SKA Observatory. Germany, Portugal, Spain, France, Japan and Switzerland all indicated interest in joining before or during construction. This is a great indication of the health of the project and will have flow-through benefits to scientific and technological collaborations.

At the Board meeting, the Cost Control Project (CCP) panel presented their report which concluded, among other things, that the SKA is capable of delivering transformational science at a range of funding levels. Having made considerable cost savings in the design through the CCP, the project will now continue on its current design path with the scalable nature of interferometers allowing some level of flexibility in the final deployment baseline.

In other SKA news, we have enjoyed positive media coverage and some great science news since my last Director’s update. CNET, a popular technology news site, has showcased the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory (MRO) MRO and SKA in a recent article. One of their journalists visited the MRO and had some interesting stories to share from the engineers and scientists who work there.

ASKAP celebrated a milestone earlier this year with the discovery of its first fast radio burst (FRB) after less than four days of searching. An explanation for these mysterious signals has baffled scientists, but future ASKAP surveys are expected to find more FRBs and help determine the true explanation of this astronomical phenomenon.

In July we welcomed the announcement of the SKA and CERN cooperation agreement on Big Data. While the SKA will be dealing with huge volumes of data once the first systems are online, CERN’s current infrastructure has given them the opportunity to face these challenges head on. This agreement will allow unique insights into Big Data challenges to flow in both directions as the SKA project progresses.

Our collaborators at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have released their 2015-16 Year Book, showcasing the key activities of the Centre and the researchers and students involved. If you’d like to read the ICRAR Year Book you can find it here.

Finally, the Regional Stakeholders Group and the Australasian SKA Industry Cluster (ASKAIC) recently held meetings in Geraldton and Sydney, respectively. You can sign up to ASKAIC here if you are a business that would like to be kept up to date with relevant information on the SKA.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for regular updates on the project.

David Luchetti
Australian SKA Project Director

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