Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By / par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

For more information and updates on the SKA:

There have been exciting developments in the SKA project over the last six months. This article summarizes developments in the design and governance of SKA1 – the first phase of the SKA facility that is scheduled to begin construction early in the next decade – over the last ~6 months.

The SKA1 Baseline Design is mature, and the focus of the SKA Organisation (SKAO) over the last several months has been the planning and execution of SKA1 element consortia critical design reviews (CDRs; see Figure 1). Seven of the nine SKA1 element consortia have completed CDR and closeout and have since dissolved, with outstanding work being carried out by the SKAO during a Bridging Phase that is expected to last another year. Notably, the Canada-led Central Signal Processor (CSP) achieved a major milestone in late 2018 by completing its CDR, which passed with “no action” (the only consortium to have received this high rating) to mark the end of nearly six years of development work. The Low-Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) consortium has passed CDR, and closeout is pending. Only outstanding element CDR is that for the Dish (DSH) consortium, which has been scheduled for Q1 2020 to provide enough time for prototyping lessons learned to be incorporated into the design and for outstanding IP issues to be resolved. SKA1 system CDR is scheduled for Q4 2019, an externally-reviewed bottom-up Cost Book is planned for Q2 2020 and construction is currently projected to start in Q2 2021.

Figure 1 – Illustration of SKA1 consortia and their progress towards CDR. Green circles indicate consortia for which CDR + closeout is complete; those consortia have been dissolved. The CSP consortium led by Canada is highlighted. The orange circle around the Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) consortium indicates that CDR is complete but closeout is ongoing. The orange arc around DSH indicates an upcoming CDR (scheduled for Q1 2020). System CDR is scheduled for Q4 2019. An interactive infographic with up-to-date CDR information can be found at cdr.skatelescope.org. Image adapted from SKAO infographic.

As SKA1 transitions from pre-construction to construction, governance of the project will transition from the SKAO, a not-for-profit company in the UK, to an intergovernmental organisation (IGO) that is established by treaty convention. A signing ceremony for the IGO Treaty Convention and Final Record was held in March 2019, and seven countries have insofar signed the Convention to become Founding Members of the IGO: Australia, China, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The IGO will come into existence when the treaty is ratified by five of these signatories, and the IGO is currently anticipated to become fully functional in Q4 2020, at which time the IGO council is expected to take full control of the project. In the interim, a Council Preparatory Task Force (CPTF) is representing the interests of current and anticipated IGO signatories and drafting accession, procurement and IP policy among other goals.

It is still possible for Canada to sign and ratify the Convention to join the IGO if governmental approval is obtained, but the sovereign nature of an IGO treaty makes that option unattractive to lawmakers. Instead, it remains most likely that Canada will participate in SKA1 via some form of Associate Membership, a position that is now shared with New Zealand. The terms of Associate Membership will need to be negotiated with the IGO Council, which will not come into force until the IGO Convention is ratified. This key policy is currently being developed by the CPTF for handover to the Council when it comes into force. Governmental permission for NRC to participate in the CPTF would therefore be an important step towards clarifying Canada’s options for participating in SKA1, and negotiations on this front are progressing well.

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