SKA Update

By/par Bryan Gaensler, Canadian SKA Science Director
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/l’automne 2016)

For more information on the SKA, subscribe to the Canadian SKA email list, and visit the Canadian SKA WWW site.

SKA Science and Science Engagement

An SKA lunch event was held in June 2016 at the CASCA annual meeting in Winnipeg. Speakers were Gary Davis (SKA overview), Séverin Gaudet (Canadian technology activities) and Bryan Gaensler on behalf of Stefi Baum (SKA pathfinder science), with significant time for questions and discussions. Copies of the presentations made at this session are available here.

The SKA project maintains 11 international science working groups and another 2 focus groups. Membership of science working groups and focus groups is open to all qualified astronomers. If you are interested in joining one of these groups, please contact Bryan Gaensler.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is the precursor of SKA-Low. Construction for MWA phase 2, which will improve the sensitivity of the array by an order of magnitude, is now nearing completion. Canada is now a member of the MWA project, with representation from the University of Toronto on the MWA Board. Any Canadian astronomers wishing to join the MWA Consortium and to consequently gain access to MWA data, software tools and science collaborations should contact Bryan Gaensler.

The main outcome from the ACURA-funded “Canada and the SKA” meeting (held in Toronto in December 2015) was the decision to begin developing the tools and infrastructure needed to support a Canadian SKA Regional Centre. The platform for this is being laid via a funding proposal to the 2017 round of the CFI Innovation program. The proposal, entitled “Unlocking the Radio Sky with Next-Generation Survey Astronomy”, is a partnership between U. Toronto (lead), U. Alberta, UBC, U. Manitoba, Queen’s U. and McGill U. The proposal’s total budget is $9M, which will be used to derive and archive advanced data products for major new surveys with the VLA, CHIME and ASKAP.

SKA Technology Development

NRC Herzberg continues to be a major participant in pre-construction efforts across several of the SKA design consortia. Canada’s main contribution to SKA is in leadership of the Central Signal Processor (CSP) consortium. The down-select process for CSP has taken place, and the package is now proceeding into final design. As previously reported, NRC is no longer designing the reflectors for SKA1-Mid, and is also not pursuing the option to design the sub-reflectors. NRC will be contributing the digitisers and low-noise amplifiers to SKA1-Mid.

ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) coordinates activities and discussion on the SKA through the ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA (AACS); see here for a listing of AACS membership. AACS meets several times per year, with its next meeting on December 12, 2016. For further information or to propose AACS agenda items, please contact the AACS Chair, Bryan Gaensler.

International SKA Activities

Canada is one of 10 member countries of the SKA Organisation, and is represented on the SKA Board of Directors by Greg Fahlman (NRC) and Bryan Gaensler (University of Toronto). The Board most recently met in April 2016 (Cape Town) and July 2016 (Jodrell Bank). Notable outcomes from these two meetings included:

  • Finalisation of SKA policies on equity and diversity, and of an SKA code of conduct.
  • Revision and expansion of membership of the SKA Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC).
  • Discussion of costing, construction plans and operations plans, with the aim of having construction approval in Dec 2018.
  • Adoption of the recommendations of the SKA Data Flow Advisory Panel, including establishment of an SKA Regional Centre Coordination Group.
  • Finalisation of the technical annex to the SKA Observatory Convention (i.e., the text that actually describes the SKA).
  • Approval of an SKA Engagement Strategy for engagement of new partners and organisations.
  • Approval of a global SKA Communications Strategy for the next 2 years.
  • Approval of an SKA Spectrum Management Policy.
  • Ongoing overviews of the SKA Headquarters and Site Hosting agreements, and of the design and construction of the SKA Headquarters.
  • Assessment of the SKA Management team.
  • Establishment of an SKA Management Review Panel, and adoption of this panel’s recommendations.
  • Election of Bryan Gaensler as science representative to the SKA Board Executive Committee.

The next SKA Board meeting will be held on November 24-25, 2016 (Jodrell Bank).

The SKA Board has recently endorsed the concept of SKA Regional Centres (SRCs) as its preferred model for meeting and managing the challenges posed by the extremely high data rates, data volumes and data analysis requirements of SKA Phase 1. Currently, the project is limited to the basic data products created by the Science Data Processor, stored locally in data processing facilities in the host countries. The scientific success of the SKA is dependent on a viable data management plan for the long-term (50+ years) curation and exploitation of the data products and the infrastructure necessary to achieve this.

The SKA Office has now established an SKA Regional Centre Coordination Group (SRCCG), with responsibilities that include defining a minimum set of requirements for individual SRCs, developing an accreditation process for the SRCS, developing a process to ensure that software tools are interoperable across the SRC network, and investigating models for the future governance of the collaborative network of SRCs. Séverin Gaudet has been appointed as the Canadian representative on the SRCCG.

The annual international SKA Engineering and SKA Science meetings will both be held in the coming months. The SKA Engineering meeting (“Towards Construction”) will take place over October 1-6, 2016, in Stellenbosch, while the SKA Science meeting (“Science for the SKA Generation”) will take place over November 7-11, 2016, in Goa. See for more information.

The University of Toronto and the University of Cape Town will jointly host a major conference, “Fundamental Physics with the Square Kilometre Array”, over May 1-5, 2017,in Mauritius. The goal is to attract the theoretical physics community to the SKA project. See for further details.

For further information on international SKA activities, see the latest SKA Newsletter and the bi-monthly SKA Organisation Bulletin.

SKA Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) Progress

Negotiations to form an intergovernmental treaty organisation (IGO) to replace the current SKA Organisation are ongoing. Negotiation meetings have taken place in Rome in October 2015, January 2016 and April 2016, and a final meeting is scheduled for September 27-29, 2016. Canada has not participated in these negotiations, but Gilles Joncas (ACURA) and Greg Fahlman / Sean Dougherty (NRC) have attended the first three meetings as observers.

After the final negotiation meeting, the intent is that the convention be “initialed” and sent back to the respective governments for their internal ratification processes. Ratification by five parties, including the three host countries (UK, Australia, South Africa), is required to bring the SKA IGO into existence. This is anticipated to happen by early 2018 in order to initiate procurement activities for the subsequent SKA construction phase.

The principle issues for the Canadian observers are to ensure scientific access to the facility, with opportunities to influence science priorities and to protect the substantial investment made in developing technology that would be applicable to the SKA. The SKA negotiating parties are aware of Canada’s position and conscious of the need to provide alternatives for countries unable to sign the Treaty to maintain engagement in the project.

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