Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By/par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Artist’s impression of SKA1-Mid in South Africa, combining MeerKAT dishes and SKA dishes. Image 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.

The publication of the SKA1 Construction Proposal – describing the scientific goals, the baseline SKA1 design, and the broader societal impacts of the project – and the SKA1 Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan – describing the first 10 years of Observatory operations, business support, global staffing and technology development – are the culmination of the decade-long SKA design phase. The SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) that will build and operate SKA1, was launched in February 2021 following the ratification of the Treaty Convention by Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Canada and other design-phase participants that have not yet joined the IGO as well as potential future partners have been designated Observers of the IGO Council. In this role we are witness to Council proceedings but unable to provide direct input into the project.

Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator construction package, one of the largest and more desirable across the project, may be jeopardized if a commitment is not made before construction starts. The IGO is expected to secure sufficient funding from other partner countries to initiate the SKA1 construction phase at its July 2021 Council meeting. There is therefore an urgent need for Canada to commit to the IGO by July 2021 to guarantee return on investment, and NRC has prepared the requisite documentation for the government to consider a participation in the project. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway (see President’s Message in this issue) by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. CASCA members interested in engaging in this process or who have questions about the project are encouraged to get in touch (contact@skatelescope.ca).

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 website, 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 Canada and the SKA:

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