Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

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

There have been exciting developments in the SKA in recent months, and the project proceeds apace despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. LRP2020 has reaffirmed the SKA as a top priority for the Canadian astronomical community for the next decade, recommending participation in SKA1 construction and operations, in its network of regional data centres, and in the project’s governance. Up-to-date information regarding Canada and SKA science, technology, industry and societal impacts are available on the SKA Canada website.

Following the completion of SKA1 System CDR at the end of last year, several external reviews of the project have confirmed its readiness to proceed to the construction phase. In combination with significant post-CDR closeout activities by the project office, these efforts resulted in the endorsement of the SKA1 Construction Proposal and the Observatory Establishment and Delivery (ie. operations) Proposal by the SKA Organisation Board of Directors in September 2020. This endorsement represents the culmination of 10 years of development work and a major milestone for the project. SKA1 is ready for construction, which is slated to begin in July 2021.

With SKA1 construction set to begin on a timescale of months, project governance will soon transition from the design-phase SKA Organisation to the SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organization (IGO) that will oversee construction and operations. The IGO is on track to come into force in early 2021 and to take over the project a few months later. Canada will be an Observer to the IGO Council, but until a commitment to the construction and operations phase is made there is no mechanism for us to provide input. Moreover, Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator, one of the largest and more desirable construction packages across the project and a significant source of economic return on investment, will be jeopardized unless a commitment is made before construction starts. There is therefore an urgent need for a Canada to commit to the SKA by the middle of 2021, and NRC is preparing the requisite documentation for the government to make its decision in this regard. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway within ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy.

The next SKA Science Meeting, “A Precursor View of the SKA Sky”, is scheduled for 15-19 March 2021. It will be held fully virtually, with a suite of pre-recorded talks that can be viewed any time as well as synchronous activities across a variety of time zones. The virtual format provides an excellent opportunity for Canadians to showcase their research to a global audience, learn about SKA science, get the latest project updates and engage with researchers around the world. Registration details will be circulated to the community through the CASCA exploder as soon as they are available.

As SKA1 construction ramps up, a large number of scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired, in the UK as well as in the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on this space, 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.). Watch this space for opportunities throughout 2021.

For more information and updates on the SKA:

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