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Outcomes of the 22nd SKA Board Meeting

The Directors of SKA Organisation held a meeting at SKA Headquarters in Jodrell Bank, United Kingdom on the 24th and 25th of November 2016 for the 22nd meeting of the SKA Board of Directors.

Notes from the Chair of the SKA Board, 22nd Meeting of the Board of Directors of SKA Organisation



Professor Giovanni Bignami (Chair of the SKA Board) welcomed directors and invited guests from Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique (France), Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (Australia), Department of Science and Technology (South Africa), Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (Italy), Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (Germany), Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spain), National Astronomy Observatory of Japan, National Remote Sensing Center of China (China), State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (Switzerland), SKA Finance Committee, SKA Office, SKA Science and Engineering Committee and Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK).

It was noted that since the last SKA Board meeting on Prof. John Womersley and Prof. Paul Alexander have stepped down as the UK’s Voting Representative and Science Director, respectively. Prof Womersley has been replaced by Dr Adam Baker (Dept of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Prof Alexander has been replaced by Prof. Philip Best (University of Edinburgh).

Director-General’s Report

Professor Philip Diamond (Director-General, SKA Organisation) presented an update on project activities since the last SKA Board meeting. The Board noted the recent, successful annual all-hands Engineering meeting in Stellenbosch, South Africa and the biennial Science meeting in Goa, India and thanked the local partners for their support in the organisation of both meetings.

The Board welcomed the continued high-level of engagement with potential new national partners and was particularly pleased to see high-level attendance from Switzerland at the meeting for the first time.

One of the key strategic issues facing the Board as it prepares for the implementation phase is the estimated costs for construction and operations based on the detailed design efforts underway around the global SKA project. Acknowledging its intention that SKA1 should be an instrument which delivers on a compelling science case but within a controlled budget, the Board made the following statement:

The Board of SKA Organisation noted excellent momentum towards establishment of an Intergovernmental Organisation to undertake construction and operation of the SKA. It also noted the encouraging progress in the SKA design and approved the proposed schedule leading to Critical Design Reviews (CDR) of the SKA Design Consortia during the second half of 2017. This important step in the engineering process is critical to ensure readiness for construction of the SKA Telescopes, still scheduled to begin towards the end of 2018.

In order to ensure the delivery of SKA1 against the defined cost cap of Euros 674M (2016 Euros), the SKA Board directed the SKA Office to undertake a review of the existing design and to explore and capitalise on a range of cost-saving measures. This includes drawing on cost reduction options already identified and further exploiting potential cost-saving and risk-reduction technology developments and solutions provided by SKA precursor and pathfinder facilities. The work will be done under the guidance of a Board Subcommittee comprising all SKA Board Science Directors, with the objectives of preserving the transformational science capabilities of SKA1, minimising impact on the project schedule, and allowing expansion of the telescopes as additional funding becomes available. The SKA Office will present preliminary recommendations to the March 2017 Board meeting of SKA Organisation.

The Director-General confirmed that work will begin immediately to deliver on the Board’s instructions. A key aim will be to ensure that there is minimal impact on the current work of the SKA Design Consortia and the Office as preparations for the Critical Design Reviews continues.

Communications and Outreach

On behalf of the Director of Communications, the Director-General reported on the extensive communications and outreach work delivered in 2016. SKA featured prominently in both ESOF2016 and ICRI, two major scientific policy conferences held in Manchester and Cape Town respectively. To support these and other activities several videos have been produced: SKA trailer video (shortlisted as one of the best Corporate Films and Videos of the Year in the European Excellence Awards competition); the SKA recruitment video; and in work done with colleagues at ASTRON and the University of Cambridge, a Euronews piece to be found at the 6-minute mark in the link :

Finance Committee

Dr Colin Vincent (Chair of SKA Finance Committee) presented the Finance Committee’s Report of its sixth meeting, held on 18 October 2016. The SKA Board noted the Report and thanked the committee for its recommendation to approve SKA Organisation’s budget for 2017. The budget was so approved.

The Board extended the appointments of Dr Colin Vincent (Chair) and Mr David Luchetti (Vice-Chair) until 31 December 2017.

Engineering Report

Mr Alistair McPherson (Head of Project and Deputy Director-General, SKA Organisation) presented the Engineering Report on design and development in the pre-construction phase of the SKA Project. He noted the work being done across the design consortia and the SKA Office on the SKA1-Low array configuration, the development of the systems budgets, the calibration workshops, the software standardisation, the Power Options Working Group, the dish design and the Max-Planck Gessellschaft funding which allows the construction of a second prototype dish to be deployed and tested. He also commented on the technical and cost issues within the LFAA and CSP consortia, which are being addressed. The Board noted the Engineering Report, the significant achievements within the project since the last SKA Board meeting as well as the large amount of work still to be done. 

Phased Array Feed Consortium

The Board noted the formation of a new, international consortium focused on the design and development of Phased Array Feed technology and authorised the SKA Office to start negotiations with CSIRO, the consortium leader, to develop a Statement of Work and a Memorandum of Understanding.

Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC)

Prof Andrea Ferrara (University of Pisa), the new Chair of the SEAC, presented the report from the first meeting of the newly enlarged SEAC. Four charges have been provided to the SEAC by the Director-General; Prof Ferrara has formed teams from within the SEAC to work on the charges and provide the appropriate advice in the near future. The SKA Board noted the SEAC Report. 

Pre-Construction Schedule

Mr McPherson presented the pre-construction schedule, which has been discussed and agreed with the SKA Design Consortia. The Board approved the revised schedule, which aims for the submission of an SKA1 construction proposal to the future SKA Observatory Council in the middle of 2018.

Cost update

Mr McPherson and Prof. Gary Davis (Director of Operations Planning, SKA Organisation) presented the latest information on the SKA1 construction and operational costs, respectively. The Board’s comments on the estimated construction costs are noted above. The Board discussed the current process for estimating the operational costs and recognised that significant work remains to be done, but noted the plan for delivering that work as presented by Prof Davis.

Staged Construction Plan

Mr McPherson presented the further development of the outline SKA-1 Construction Plan. The Board noted the impending secondment of Ms Tracy Cheetham from South Africa and Mr Antony Schinckel from Australia as the Heads of Construction Planning for SKA1-Mid and Low respectively.

Report on the fourth SKA Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) Negotiation Meeting

Professor Bignami provided a report on the 4th IGO Negotiation meeting held in Rome, Italy on 27–29 September 2016. The Board noted the report and the excellent progress made by the Convention Task Force under the chairmanship of Mr Daan du Toit (DST, South Africa) in resolving the final, outstanding issues required before the so-called ‘legal scrub’ of the Convention text can occur.

StratCom Report

Dr Simon Berry (Director of Policy Development, SKA Organisation) presented a report on the StratCom face-to-face meeting held on 21-22 November 2016, which was noted by the Board.

Transition Planning

Dr Berry presented an update on the transition planning from the current SKA Organisation towards the future SKA Observatory IGO.  The Transition Oversight Committee, a sub-group of StratCom, and the Transition Working Group, which is internal to the SKA Organisation, have begun their work. The Board noted the report, which describes the steps now underway to develop a detailed plan for the eventual winding up of the SKA Organisation as a UK company, and the establishment of the SKA Observatory IGO as a new legal entity.  Along with the legal aspects of the transition, the planning groups are also considering the broader administrative, financial and personnel issues that will be important through the process.

Site Reports

The SKA Board noted site reports from Australia and South Africa, in particular the start of Early Science with the ASKAP precursor telescope and the impressive progress in the construction of the MeerKAT precursor telescope.

Invited Guests

The guests from potential future partner countries provided brief reports on activities and engagement within their science communities and their governments. The Board welcomed the reports, which showed excellent and positive progress on several fronts.

Items for Noting

In an attempt to increase the efficiency of the Board meetings, several items, whose content is provided for information at this time and which do not require particular discussion, are reserved to a final agenda item. The Board noted reports from the SKA Science Director, on the SKA Observatory Development Programme, the Risk Report, the HQ and Site Hosting Agreements, the HQ Design and Construction status and the Board Forward Workplan.

Future SKA Board Meetings

The Board discussed future SKA Board meeting dates and the following was agreed:

  • SKA-BD-23 meeting: 29-30 March 2017 (Australia)
  • SKA-BD-24 meeting: 18-19 July 2017
  • SKA-BD-25 meeting: 8-9 November 2017

The locations for the SKA Board meetings in July and November 2017 have yet to be decided, but the Board has accepted Italy’s kind offer to host one of these meetings.


Giovanni Bignami

Chair, Board of Directors

SKA Organisation

30 November 2016

Below is an archive of all the previous Notes from the Chair.

21st SKA Board Meeting – July 2016

20th SKA Board Meeting – April 2016

19th SKA Board Meeting – November 2015

18th SKA Board Meeting – July 2015

15th SKA Board Meeting – October 2014

14th SKA Board Meeting – July 2014

12th SKA Board Meeting – March 2014

11th SKA Board Meeting – October 2013

10th SKA Board Meeting – July 2013

9th SKA Board Meeting – April 2013

8th SKA Board Meeting – January 2013

2nd SKA Board Meeting – March 2012

1st SKA Board Meeting – January 2012