Square Kilometre Array
Participation in the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) program [external link] is a strategic priority for CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. Our experience operating world-class radio telescopes, as well as our strengths in technology development and radio astronomy research, have already enabled us to make significant contributions towards planning for the SKA. In addition, the CSIRO-run Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory has been selected as the central site for major components of SKA telescope infrastructure in Australia; SKA telescope infrastructure will also be deployed in southern Africa.
What is the SKA?
The SKA radio telescope is an international project to build the world's largest radio telescope; consisting of thousands of antennas linked together by high bandwidth optical fibre.
The SKA will be 50 times as sensitive as the best existing radio telescopes and will have a survey speed 10,000 times faster than its nearest current-day rival—enabling it to carry out research more quickly than ever before. It aims to address fundamental questions about the evolution of the Universe including the formation of black holes, the origins of the first stars and the generation of magnetic fields in space.
The SKA program is being led by the international SKA Organisation [external link], a not-for-profit company with its headquarters in Manchester, UK.
The telescope will be implemented across two main sites: the Murchison region in Western Australia and southern Africa.
The SKA will be developed over a phase timeline; pre-construction development is underway and will continue through to the latter half of this decade, involving detailed design, implementation, R&D work, and contract preparation needed to bring the SKA's first phase to construction readiness.
The main bulk of the SKA will be built in two phases, with the first phase (SKA1) involving testing of the full system in a 'proof of concept' manner. As part of SKA1, Australia will host the SKA1-Low and SKA1-Survey components of the SKA. The 36 antennas of CSIRO's ASKAP telescope will be integrated into SKA1-Survey. The 64-dish MeerKAT SKA precursor in South Africa will be incoporated into the mid-frequency component of SKA1, built in South Africa.
CSIRO involvement in the SKA
CSIRO works with the Australian and New Zealand governments, and the SKA Organisation, to progress the SKA project.
CSIRO's current involvement in the SKA includes:
- Establishment and ongoing management of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in the Mid West region of Western Australia, where the SKA telescope infrastructure in Australia is to be centred
- Development, construction, commissioning and operation of CSIRO's Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope, a technology demonstrator (precursor) for the SKA, and a world-leading telescope in its own right
- Development of innovative phased array feeds or 'radio cameras' that allow telescopes to scan the sky far more quickly than with traditional single pixel receivers
- Participation in the Murchison Widefield Array project [external link], a precursor for the SKA, also located at the MRO
- Establishment of infrastructure to support the MRO including the MRO Support Facility in Geraldton and SKA-ready high-speed optic-fibre connectivity between the MRO and Perth
- Playing a key role in a number of SKA R&D consortia, including lead for 'Dish' and 'Infrastructure-Australia', and a major role in 'Assembly, Integration and Verification'
- Establishment of the CSIRO SKA Centre to coordinate the organisation's participation and engagement in the international SKA project, and act as the first point of contact for external stakeholders on SKA issues and activities within CSIRO
- Participation in the development of SKA science goals, and preparing software and techniques to harvest the science discoveries that will flow from the SKA
- Provision of advice to industry, the ACMA, and governments on radio-quiet compliance matters and the impact on radio astronomy of proposed activities within the Australian Radio-Quiet Zone (WA) that protects the radio-quietness of the Australian SKA site through a range of regulatory mechanisms. Further information is available from the Australian SKA Office or by contacting CSIRO
- Participation in the Australia – New Zealand SKA Coordination Committee [external link], the advisory body to Ministers on SKA planning in Australia and New Zealand, and
- Participation in the Australasian SKA Industry Consortium [external link]