By Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)
The SKA project continues to proceed rapidly despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. Up-to-date Canada-specific information regarding potential SKA science, technology, industry and societal impact is available on the SKA Canada website, while frequent project-wide updates are posted on the SKA International website.
The SKA Observatory (SKAO) Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) took control of the project from the design-phase SKA Organisation earlier this year (see news item here), and activities within the IGO are rapidly ramping up. Member States of the IGO, responsible for project governance through their seats on the IGO Council, include Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Potential future partners of the IGO are designated as Observers, and witness IGO Council proceedings; Observers currently include Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and Sweden. Among Observers, France and Spain are making progress towards becoming IGO Member States; a cooperation agreement with the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne enables Switzerland’s participation in the IGO pending approval from their Parliament; and design-phase partners Canada, Germany, India and Sweden have been conditionally allocated work packages pending decisions by their governments to participate in SKA Phase 1 (= SKA1) construction and operations.
In late June, the IGO Member States approved the start of the construction phase for SKA1 (see news item here), which represents a historic milestone for the project. That phase will execute the construction and observatory delivery plans previously published by the IGO, which detail the science drivers, technical requirements, and anticipated societal benefits of the project. The SKA1 construction timeline remains similar to pre-pandemic projections, with construction tender and procurement underway, the first science verification observations anticipated in 2026, operations readiness reviews expected by 2028, and the onset of full operations by the end of 2029.
Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. This commitment is needed soon in order to guarantee return on investment through participation in SKA1 tender and procurement, as well as to secure the highly-desirable SKA1-Mid correlator construction package that we have been conditionally allocated. Discussions with SKAO in this context are ongoing. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities continues to be an integral part of the process toward securing Canada’s future participation, and work by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy in this regard will resume after the federal election.
For more information and updates on Canada and the SKA: