Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By / par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2019)

Composite image of the SKA at night. Credit: SKA Organisation.

There have been exciting developments in the SKA project over the last six months, and the project is progressing quickly. A detailed account of the recent history and current status of the SKA project in Canada can be found in the final report to the 2020 LRP Panel by Spekkens that was submitted at the end of September, as well as the SKA White Paper by Spekkens that recommends Canada’s continued participation in the project from 2020-2030.

The SKA1 Baseline Design is mature, and the main tasks of the SKA Organisation (SKAO) over the last several months have been a) the post-critical design review (CDR) closeout of element consortia and b) the planning and execution of System CDR. The only outstanding element CDR is that for the Dish (DSH) consortium, which has been pushed back to Q4 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 was passed on 13 Dec 2019 – this is a major milestone for the project. Among the documents produced for System CDR, the revised operations plan and first complete cost book have improved the reliability of the costing estimates for SKA1. Both are scheduled for external review in Q2 2020 and constitute key inputs to the definition of the SKA1 Deployment Baseline (ie. the instrument that will initially be built), which will take place on the same timescale. The SKAO Board expects to endorse the SKA1 Construction Proposal, Operations Plan, and Business-Enabling Plan in Q3 2020 for transmission to the IGO Council (see below) to enable a construction start in Q2 2021. The next six months of the SKA project are thus arguably the most critical in its 20-year history, and Canadians are deeply engaged.

As SKA1 moves 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. Among the seven countries that signed the convention in March 2019 (Australia, China, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom), the Netherlands was the first to ratify it in August 2019. The IGO will come into existence when five signatories ratify the convention, which is anticipated in Q3 2020. This schedule implies that the IGO will become fully functional in Q4 2020 and will take control of the project in Q1 2021. In the interim, a Council Preparatory Task Force (CPTF) is representing the interests of current and anticipated IGO signatories, its main activities are focussed on drafting accession, procurement and IP policy documents. Among the 13 current SKAO members, only New Zealand has confirmed that it will not contribute to the SKA beyond pre-construction; a number of countries including Canada are therefore exploring mechanisms for participating in the IGO. Permission for NRC to participate in the CPTF as an Observer was obtained in April 2019. This represents an important step forward for Canadian participation in SKA1 construction and operations, with Full IGO Membership, Associate IGO Membership or an alternate Collaborative Agreement all being explored.

SKA Science Data Challenges offer an opportunity for the astronomical community to familiarize itself with the kind of data that SKA1 will produce in order. They inform the development of data reduction workflows, including demonstration of the quality and reliability with which one may extract science from the images to be provided by the SKA Regional Centres. The first Science Data Challenge focussed on SKA1-Mid radio continuum source detection and characterization. The next Challenge will feature datacubes containing HI emission and absorption, and is in the planning stages. Keep an eye on the SKA Canadian email exploder for the announcement, or check the main SKA web page.

As SKA1 ramps up towards construction, a large number of scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired, both in the UK and in the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on recruitment.skatelescope.org, which includes a “job alert” tool to set up personalized emails filtered by field of expertise, location, duration and employment type (permanent, contract, secondment, etc.). There are many opportunities to dip your feet in SKA waters, both for those not quite ready to take the plunge into permanent employment as well as those seeking permanent jobs. Expect this area to heat up significantly over the next year!

For more information and updates on the SKA:

Pour marque-pages : Permaliens.

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