Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By/par Bryan Gaensler, Canadian SKA Science Director
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/l’automne 2017)

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

A very successful meeting on the topic “Canadian Radio Astronomy: Surveying the Present and Shaping the Future” was held over September 13-14, 2017, in Montréal (see Figure). More than 60 scientists and students from across Canada came together to discuss frontline research with current radio telescopes, the status of upcoming and planned facilities, and the community’s scientific priorities for the next generation of observatories such as the SKA and ngVLA. Presentations from the meeting can be downloaded from here.

Meeting participants.

Meeting participants.

An SKA lunch event was held in June 2017 at the CASCA annual meeting in Edmonton. Speakers covered the international landscape, NRC activities, and Canadian science activities, with significant time for questions and discussions. Copies of the presentations made at this session are available here.

The University of Toronto and the University of Cape Town jointly hosted a major science conference, “Fundamental Physics with the Square Kilometre Array”, held in Mauritius over May 1-5, 2017. The purpose of this meeting was to engage the theoretical physics (as opposed to astrophysics) community in the science case and design considerations for the full array. See physics presentations for copies of all presentations.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is the precursor of SKA-Low and is a powerful science facility in its own right (see MWA for details). Construction for MWA phase 2, which will improve the sensitivity of the array by an order of magnitude, is now nearing completion. Canada is a full member of the MWA project, with representation 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 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.

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 the committees and working groups page for a listing of AACS membership. AACS meets several times per year, with its next meeting on October 13th, 2017. For further information or to propose AACS agenda items, please contact the AACS Chair, Bryan Gaensler.

SKA Technology Development

NRC Herzberg continues to be a major participant in pre-construction efforts for the SKA. Work on the Mid-Frequency Correlator/BeamFormer (MID.CBF) is proceeding at a vigorous pace towards its sub-element Critical Design Review (CDR) in March 2018. Canada’s proposed “Frequency Slice Architecture” (FSA) underwent a rigorous engineering change proposal (ECP) review by the SKA Project Office, and the feedback from the external review panel was very positive. As a result of this ECP review process, the FSA has now been formally accepted as the MID.CBF reference design. Procurement activities are under way to build actual prototypes to demonstrate this novel architecture in time for the sub-element CDR. The Canadian-led Central Signal Processor (CSP) consortium will hold its Critical Design Review in May 2018.

The design effort for SKA1-Mid’s Band 1 / Band 2 digitiser successfully passed its delta Detailed Design Review in August 2017. The next milestone is the production of two qualification models that will be mounted on the Chinese and German prototype antennas in January 2018. The digitiser sub-element Critical Design Review is now scheduled for April 2018.

Six additional Low-Noise Amplifiers (LNAs) were shipped to EMSS in South Africa in July 2017 for integration into the Band 2 receivers for SKA1-Mid. These LNAs plus two others shipped earlier are part of Canada’s contribution to SKA’s Dish Consortium.

The 2017 SKA Engineering meeting was held in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in June 2017. Eleven Canadians attended, representing NRC and MDA.

SKA Regional Centres

Work continues in the SKA Regional Centre (SRC) Coordination Group, with representation from member countries/regions interested in hosting an SRC. The SRC Framework document has been officially accepted by the SKA office and the first draft of the SRC Requirements document has been submitted for review. The Requirements document describes the model for an alliance of collaborative interoperating regional centres to serve the international user community. The requirements cover 6 broad areas:

  • Governance: How the SRCs are made to function as an alliance and to work serving the needs of the SKAO and the user community;
  • Science Archive: Provision of an archive for the storage and curation of, and access to, SKA science data products;
  • Accessibility and Software Tools: How users will interact with the SRCs;
  • Data Processing: Generation and visualisation of science data products;
  • User Storage: Different capabilities for users, including scratch spaces and project collaboration spaces;
  • Network connectivity: Transfer of science data products from the Observatory into SRCs and between SRCs.

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 SKA Board met most recently in March 2017 (Perth, Australia), May 2017 (by videoconference) and July 2017 (The Hague, The Netherlands). A meeting of the SKA Members (at which Greg Fahlman represented NRC) took place in Perth in March 2017 (Perth) and May 2017 (videoconference). The SKA Board’s Executive Committee (of which Bryan Gaensler is a member) meets monthly. We note with sadness that the SKA Board Chair, Professor Giovanni Bignami, passed away unexpectedly in May 2017; a search committee (including Bryan Gaensler) is currently seeking a replacement.

Notable outcomes from the last two SKA Board meetings have included:

  • Conclusion of the SKA project’s cost control exercise, the aim of which was to identify a route to delivering SKA1 within the previously established cost cap of €674M (in 2016 euros). The “Design Baseline” for SKA1 was established in March 2015, and remains the longterm ambition of the project. The Board has now also approved the definition of a “Deployment Baseline” for SKA1. The Deployment Baseline corresponds to the telescopes currently deliverable at a funding level of €674M (2016 euros), and takes advantage of the scalable nature of interferometers. The final Deployment Baseline of SKA-1 will be defined in the SKA’s construction proposal and will include as much of the Design Baseline as can be afforded at that time. The current Deployment Baseline has been defined following an analysis from the SKA Office, in collaboration with the engineering design consortia and in consultation with the science community. See SKYBaseline for a comparison of the current Deployment Baseline and the Design Baseline.

    The scientific assessment from this process is that the current Deployment Baseline will provide transformational science capabilities. Furthermore, re-instatement of the omitted capabilities, up to the full restoration of the Design Baseline, is planned, either during or after the construction phase, should additional funding become available. Ongoing cost oversight will take place within the SKA Office’s regular activities. The Board now looks to the science community, and particularly to the SKA Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC) to regularly review the Deployment Baseline and to confirm its ability to deliver transformational science. Prof Kristine Spekkens from the Royal Military College of Canada is a member of the SEAC.
  • Consideration of a revised pre-construction schedule to incorporate the delays produced by the cost control project.
  • Updates from France, Germany, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Spain and Switzerland on their SKA-related activities and on their potential interest in participating in the SKA project.
  • Approval of a budget and business plan for the SKA Organisation (SKAO) through 2019, along with continued discussion of the corresponding financial contribution to be assigned to each member country in order to provide this funding.
  • Discussion of a draft mandate and terms of reference for an SKA Observatory Council Preparatory Task Force (CPTF). The CPTF will essentially form an interim council, consisting of those countries that have indicated they are willing to join the SKA Intergovernmental Organisation. The CPTF is expected to engage and negotiate with potential new Members and Associate Members of the SKA Observatory on matters pertaining to the terms of their accession or participation, prepare the SKA Observatory Initial Funding Schedule, and engage with the SKA Office and the SKA Board on SKA Observatory budgets, policies and procedures.
  • Ongoing discussion of finances, engineering reports, business development, site reports, communications, governance, operations, and transition planning from the current SKA Observatory (a UK company) into an Intergovernmental Organisation.
  • Ongoing overviews of the SKA Headquarters and Site Hosting agreements, and of the design and construction of the new SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank.

Upcoming SKA Board meetings will be in November 2017 (Italy), April 2018 (Sweden), and July 2018 (South Africa).

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

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.