Australian SKA Project Director's Update

Australian SKA Project Director's Update

March 2018

I am pleased to begin this update with very exciting recent news out of the world of low-frequency radio astronomy. Regular readers of Nature (or a multitude of news outlets and social media accounts) will have seen that the signature of the first stars that formed after the big bang was detected using the EDGES instrument at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO). Congratulations to Judd Bowman’s team for completing what I understand was a highly complex survey conducted over many years.

Beyond being an impressive science outcome, the discovery has big implications for the SKA-low telescope in Australia. Along with progressing the low-frequency science case, it was a demonstration of the extreme radio-quietness of Australia’s SKA site that will underpin the discovery power of the SKA.

The start of this year has seen some significant progress on SKA antenna development. The first fully assembled SKA-mid dish was unveiled in a ceremony in China on 6 February, and a second dish will soon arrive in South Africa for on-site testing. At the same time, a multi-national team involving the Netherlands, Italy, Malta, UK, China and Australia has now completed an array of the current design of SKA-low antennas at Australia’s site. True to its name, the AAVS1 Test Platform is now being used to test the antenna technology.

SKA design work packages continue moving forward with Critical Design Reviews (CDRs) for most consortia taking place throughout 2018. A significant body of work is being undertaken right now to scope-out Early Production Arrays (EPAs), as a way to verify system functions and provide opportunities to further refine the telescopes ahead of mass antenna roll-outs. Unlike the current antenna test arrays, the EPAs look to test the whole ‘end-to-end’ system and are intended to become part of the broader SKA arrays. As the SKA design is refined over the coming year, we expect to know more about procurement processes, which I will share with you as the information becomes available.

Lastly, we gladly welcome Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt back to Australian shores. As part of her Curtin University professorship, Prof Johnston-Hollitt will take on the role of Director of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). Her experience as New Zealand’s science representative on the SKA Organisation Board will no doubt prove valuable as we work towards realising SKA-low in Australia.

Kind regards
David Luchetti, Australian SKA Project Director

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