Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – été 2021)

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

There have been many exciting SKA developments in recent months and the project proceeds apace, despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. Up-to-date Canada-specific information regarding potential science, technology, industry and societal impacts are available on the SKA Canada website, and a summary of developments through May 2021 was presented at the 2021 CASCA AGM SKA Town Hall. More broadly, frequent project-wide updates are posted on the SKA International website.

The SKA Observatory (SKAO) Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) now controls the project. Construction of SKA Phase 1 (= SKA1) is slated to begin in early July, pending approval by the IGO Council in late June. There has been considerable recent activity among partner countries to secure their participation ahead of the construction phase: China has ratified the SKAO Convention to become the seventh Full Member alongside Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, and the United Kingdom; France’s request to accede to Full IGO membership was approved; and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a Cooperation Agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the IGO. These recent commitments, combined with other developments such as the appointment of telescope site directors and the inaugural meeting of the SKAO Science and Engineering Advisory Committee underscore the project’s technical and financial readiness to enter the construction phase in a few weeks.

Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. The Federal Budget 2021 did not provide a decision on Canada’s SKA participation, and there remains an urgent need for a Canada to make a commitment to the IGO to guarantee return on investment through participation in SKA1 construction tender and procurement. In particular, Canada’s conditional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator construction package, one of the largest and more desirable across the project, will be jeopardized if a commitment is not made before construction starts in July. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities continues to be an part of the process towards securing Canadian participation, and work in this regard is well underway (see President’s Message in this issue) by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. Our Government understands the SKA project timeline and the importance of Canada’s contribution to its success. Consideration is still being given to the options available for Canada to continue making contributions to the project.

There will be significant employment opportunities as SKA1 construction ramps up. Many scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired in the UK and the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on the recruitment site, 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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