Australian SKA Project Director's Update

Australian SKA Project Director's Update

June 2018
 

It has been a busy and productive three months in the Square Kilometre Array project and I am proud of our recent accomplishments. In exciting news, negotiations for the international treaty to establish the SKA Observatory are now complete and open for initialling. Italy, which led the multilateral negotiations, was the first country to initial the document. Australia’s Ambassador to Rome, Dr Greg French, initialled the SKA Convention text on behalf of Australia on the 11 June 2018, signalling Australia’s commitment to the SKA project. A signing ceremony is planned for September/October this year, and I am looking forward to celebrating that momentous occasion.

On 19 June, Spain became the SKA Organisation's eleventh member country after the Board of the SKA Organisation unanimously approved the Spanish Government's application. Spain has been participating in SKA-related activities since the early days of the SKA, and we look forward to working with them even more closely in the coming years as we move to construction and operation of the telescopes.

On this front, critical design reviews are moving along well, with first impressions from the Telescope Manager and Signal & Data Transport consortia recently published. The Telescope Manager critical design review has now been completed, with the Signal & Data Transport soon to finalise. These are the first two of nine critical design reviews and this shows great progress on this critical stage of the SKA project.

Congratulations to the SKA Africa team on their recent scientific paper, the first using South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope. MeerKat scientists successfully observed the behaviour of rare radio magnetars, with their findings published in The Astrophysical Journal in April. These magnetars are so rare, only four have been discovered to date. This is the first publication of an astronomical discovery using data from the new MeerKAT telescope.

Shared Sky opened its doors for the 8th time at the European Commission Headquarters in Brussels in April. European Commissioner Carlos Moedas formally opened the exhibition to over 80 guests, and was joined by Dr Catherine Cesarsky, Chair of SKA Board of Directors. This exhibition brings together indigenous and local artists from Australia and South Africa and was warmly received by attendees. Shared Sky is now travelling to Austria for the International Astronomical Union XXX General Assembly in August this year.

The 11th General Meeting of SKA Members in Gothenburg, Sweden, was held on 10 April 2018. Members were updated on the progress towards establishing the SKA Observatory as an Inter-Governmental Organisation. The 26th meeting of the SKA Board of Directors also met in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 11-12 April 2018. Technical discussions focussed on the construction and operations costing, project risk, early production arrays and the operations model review. The next SKA Board meeting will be in Cape Town, South Africa, 11-12 July 2018.

In good news, Phase Two of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) was launched in April by Senator Michaelia Cash, MWA Director Prof Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Parliamentary Secretary Chris Tallentire MLA (West Australian Parliament) and Vice Chancellor Prof Deborah Terry (Curtin University). This major expansion included the addition of 2,048 antennas at the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, greatly increasing its research capacity. The telescope is now ten times more powerful than Phase One, and is a big step towards the Square Kilometre Array. The MWA is a collaboration of 21 partner academic institutions from Australia, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, China and Canada.

Also in April, the Australian Government committed $70 million to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth Australia. Pawsey plays an integral role in the collection and analysis of data generated at ASKAP, MWA and the future SKA. It is great to see continued investment in the next generation of supercomputers in Australia.

Finally, a big congratulations to the Aperture Array Verification System (AAVS1) team on their completion of the first SKA Low prototype station. With a full station of 256 low-frequency antennas deployed, this marks a crucial engineering milestone in the SKA project. The AAVS1 is a global effort involving 500 engineers and scientists from 20 countries. It is currently being connected to the Murchison Widefield Array for further testing and characterisation. The consortium is now also entering its critical design review process for SKA Low, with the review to commence later this year.

I look forward to the next three months ahead in the SKA project.

Kind regards
David Luchetti, Australian SKA Project Director

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