SKA radio telescope decision imminent

Siting of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope could be decided in March or April

As a decision nears on the siting of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope – one of the largest scientific research instruments ever planned – the promoters of the Australia and New Zealand bid are fighting a view that would see the endeavour split between the two short-listed sites, Australia/NZ and southern Africa.

“The issue of a split site has been raised a number of times,” says Brian Boyle, project director for the Australia/NZ bid (anzSKA).

“The ANZSCC (ANZ SKA Coordination Committee) does not favour a split site outcome. That would have significant impact on the science outcomes of the project. We believe that a full-scale SKA as envisioned by the international community is both achievable and desirable.

“A significant split of the SKA site by either frequency or collecting area is not supported by the SKA science case,” he says. Moreover, the SKA Science and Engineering Committee has considered the arguments for splitting the array on a number of occasions and found no scientific justification to do so – indeed it concluded that a split array would damage the science of the SKA. In addition, there would be an inevitable cost overhead of constructing and operating two major sites rather than one.”

The SKA Organisation is likely to receive the recommendation on a preferred site for the SKA in mid-February, from the expert SKA Site Advisory Committee, Boyle says on the anzSKA website. “It is anticipated that the members of the SKA Organisation will then enter into negotiations with the preferred site, followed by a decision and announcement in March/April this year.”

The SKA project will produce unprecedented flows of data from radio observations at various frequencies and in various parts of the sky and is expected to be a great stimulus for innovative data processing technology.

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