AUT has just signed an agreement with the CSIRO, which is leading the development of Australia’s SKA Pathfinder telescope — a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) giant next-generation telescope.
However, Economic Development Minister Peter Hodgson’s office says that “it will be a while before any decisions are taken” regarding direct funding of the SKA project. This is despite the Australian federal government providing nearly A$120 million.
The SKA is being developed by scientists in 17 countries. Australia and South Africa have been short-listed as host nations.
It will require supercomputing power and high capacity broadband networks to deliver and process data has the potential to tie New Zealand geophysics researchers into major international projects.
Researchers at Auckland University of Technology have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, whose telescope research arm is building the precursor Pathfinder telescope.
The agreement involves closer cooperation between AUT and the CSIRO, including the establishment of radio astronomy facilities in New Zealand.
AUT’s research team believes the agreement will prepare both AUT and the CSIRO to take part in the future SKA project. In the meantime, AUT is building a 12-metre radio telescope that AUT radio physics Professor Sergei Gulyaev says is a “test telescope for the SKA Pathfinder”.
Gulyaev, who is the director of the university’s Centre for Radiophysics and Space Research, says the AUT-funded telescope, which is being built with Australian software and technical assistance, will be delivered to a site near Warkworth, north of Auckland, later in the year. He says Warkworth was chosen because it is “radio-quiet”, with little interference.
Although any NZ funding for the much bigger SKA project has yet to be announced, the CSIRO has already said it is firmly committed to the SKA telescope projects.
The Australian government has announced it is providing A$118.5 million (NZ$145.8 million) to meet development costs, with the West Australian state government providing a further A$29.3 million for radio astronomy in the western state.