SKA Telescope

Nice that we got the lion’s share of it, possibly we’ll now be in a position to actually receive foreign money for a change instead of pumping ours out. Two nice sites to have a look at:

But then there’s this:

If even a small fraction of the economic benefits that the late Tony Twine of Econometrix predicted in a report commissioned by Shell are realised, the benefits of shale gas drilling will not only exceed the small and manageable risk the industry poses, but will also exceed the immediate benefits of the SKA project.

I’m a scientist so obviously I would rather have the telescope thangyouverymuch. But in the short-term I can imagine this is tempting (wouldn’t really know if it is any more than tempting though as I’m not an economist or politician). Ah, and just reading that quote carefully now I see the report was commissioned by Shell… :-[ Nevermind then.

Perhaps all the telescopes will just get stolen and sold as scrap metal… :slight_smile:

In the Karoo?? Jo’hies yes, but I seriously doubt they’ll try it there… SA’s version of godfearing country, more chance of a missing lamb than a missing telescope.

I’m sure security will be tight. Personally, I’d rather see the army protecting these scopes than some fuzzy border.


The army will help to steal the scopes, and use army transport to get the scrap metal to Johannesburg for sale. :slight_smile:

I have to wonder how cops and the army will communicate with the imposed radio silence?

Seeing as the dismembered telescopes will be on army trucks on their way to scrap yards in Johannesburg, the imposed radio silence will have become irrelevant. :slight_smile:

Seriously though, I guess the radio silence will make exceptions for emergencies, or something like that.

What makes up the kilometer? I presume the actual dish area (many discs added together) and not a square kilometer of some Karoo farm?

Yes, it’s the total area of all the antennae.

30 May 2012

How will the SKA be split between Africa and Australia? Is this
feasible, given the distance between the two continents?

The SKA consists of two quite distinct components: one working at
low frequencies and one working at mid frequencies. The two
components use very different antenna technologies and operate
independently. For this reason it is quite easy to separate the
SKA into these two components, and build them on separate sites.
Even if the SKA had been allocated to one country the two
components would have been separated by quite a large distance.

What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of a dual

Firstly, there is no detriment to the science, and for Phase 1
there may even be advantages because of the use of existing
investments at both sites. Management will be slightly more
complicated, but the SKA Organisation is already distributed
across many countries. The implementation cost will inevitably be
higher because of some duplication of infrastructure and
differential construction and operations costs between the
countries, but this may be offset by greater participation and
hence Membership contributions.

How will be components of the SKA be split across both

SKA Phase 1 (about 10% of the total SKA)

South Africa
South Africa’s precursor array - the 64-dish MeerKAT telescope -
will be integrated into Phase 1. An additional 190 mid-frequency dish-shaped antennas,
each about 15 m high will be built.

Australia’s 36-dish SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) will be integrated
into Phase 1. An additional 60 mid-frequency dish-shaped
antennas, each about 15 m high, will be built, as well as a large
number of small, low-frequency antennas -
each about 1,5 m high.

SKA Phase 2

South Africa & African partners
Telescope will extend to long baselines of 3 000 km or more
A total of about three thousand mid-frequency dishes, with the
highest concentration in the Northern Cape, South Africa, but
some dishes in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya,
Ghana, Madagascar and Mauritius. In addition, a large number of
flat mid-frequency antennas, each about 60 m in diameter (number
to be determined).

Telescope extends over a baseline of 200 km
Up to 10 times more of the low-frequency antennas - each about
1,5 m high.

What about the cost? How much will each contribute? Will the cost
of building the telescope increase due to the split?

Capital and running costs for the SKA will come from
contributions from all of the Members of the SKA Organisation.
The split in costs will depend on the number of Members,
currently eight, that join the Organisation. In the SKA Phase 1
era they may be a saving on costs because the split site scenario
allows the use of existing infrastructure on both sites. In the
Phase 2 era there will be a need to build duplicate
infrastructure, but the cost of this has not yet been determined
with any accuracy. The increase is expected to be a relatively
small fraction of the total cost.

What are your plans for the SKA site in South Africa? What will
it include?

Currently the South African SKA site is being developed for the
MeerKAT precursor telescope. The infrastructure that is already
developed, and will be developed over the next few years, will be
used for both the MeerKAT and SKA Phase 1. This infrastructure
includes electric power from the national grid, data connections
to major academic networks, and buildings to support the
construction and operation of MeerKAT and the SKA.

What role do the international partners have in the project - how
do they contribute? What kind of support are you looking for from
the international community?

The SKA is a global project and depends fundamentally on support
from all of the Members of the SKA Organisation. The SKA will not
only consist of the antennas to the two sites, but very
importantly consists of a distributed network of staff,
institutions, data networks and computing facilities located in
the Member countries. Capital and operations costs will be
covered by contributions from the Members.

Who is now going to lead the SKA project?

The SKA is a global project, and it will be managed by the SKA
Organisation which is a company registered in the UK. All of the
Members of the Organisation will participate in the management,
development and construction.

What is the budget for the SKA? How much will South Africa be
putting towards it, and how will project financing be divided
amongst the countries participating?

The current estimated capital cost of the SKA is 1.5 billion
euros. The contributions from the Members are yet to be
negotiated, and will depend on the number of new countries that
become Members of the SKA Organisation.

Current Members of the SKA Organisation (May 2012):

  • Australia: Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and

  • Canada: National Research Council

  • China: National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of

  • Italy: National Institute for Astrophysics

  • New Zealand: Ministry of Economic Development

  • Republic of South Africa: National Research Foundation

  • The Netherlands: Netherlands Organisation for Scientific

  • United Kingdom: Science and Technology Facilities Council

What kind of impact will the SKA have on the development of
science and technology in Africa?

The SKA has already had an impact through the MeerKAT project and
the human capital development project that is managed by the SKA
South Africa project office. The MeerKAT has provided African
academia and industry with challenges that have improved their
competitiveness, and the human capital programme has increased
the numbers of students taking degrees up to the PhD level in
physics, mathematics and engineering. Being much larger, the SKA
will take this to the next level.

What kind of experience does South Africa have that it can apply
to the SKA? Is it equipped to handle such a large, high-profile
and high-tech research project?

South African industry has a long and excellent track record in
managing and executing large projects, both locally and abroad.
Sasol is perhaps a good example of this, but there are many
others in the mining, defence, energy, construction and
manufacturing sectors.

Does the SKA project create any specific opportunities for
increased collaboration with the other BRICS countries?

China is already a Member of the SKA Organisation, and India has
a long involvement in the SKA and will likely become a Member in
the future. Russia and Brazil have both shown interest in the
SKA, and may join at a later date. We are currently working very
closely with our Indian colleagues of high performance data
process and computing systems, and have engaged with Chinese
industry with regard to the construction of dishes.

What is so special about the Karoo region? Why build the SKA

It is a radio quiet region, being in a remote area with sparse
population and no economic activity other than low density
farming. It is also a dry, high plateau providing good
atmospheric and tropospheric conditions for mid-frequency
observations. Although it is remote, it is well serviced with
basic infrastructure such as utility grid power and roads.

What makes the SKA different from other radio telescopes?

The SKA will be about 50 times more sensitive than any other
existing radio telescope. It is not fundamentally different from
existing instruments, but it will make use of the most advanced
technologies available to provide the most favourable
cost/performance ratio.

What will be the main research areas of the SKA?

The SKA science objectives are outlined at ( ).

They key science programmes are all transformational in that they
will provide answers to fundamental questions in physics,
astronomy and cosmology. It will focus on addressing questions
that can only be answered using a radio telescope. Scientists
expect that the SKA will make new discoveries about the universe
that we had not imagined.

What will SKA actually look like?

The SKA will consist of thousands of different types of antennae
spread out over large areas. Some will be shaped like dishes,
while others will look like flat tiles and TV antennas. Artist’s
impressions of what the dishes will look like are available at ( ).

Construction of the telescope is set to begin in 2016. What
preparations need to be made in the next four years?

The next step for the SKA is a detailed design and
pre-construction phase (2013 - 2015) followed by the construction
of SKA Phase 1 - making up about 10% of the total instrument.
Scientists should be able to use SKA Phase 1 for research by
2020. By that time construction on SKA Phase 2 should be underway
(2018 - 2023) with full science operations commencing by 2024.

What is the life expectancy of the SKA?

At least 50 years