Print this page

China ratifies SKA Observatory Convention

Close up of the preamble to the SKA Observatory Convention, with flags in the background.

The Convention, signed in Rome on 12 March 2019, is the founding document of the SKA Observatory.

Beijing, China, 3 June 2021 – China has ratified the Convention Establishing the SKA Observatory (SKAO), following the approval of the national legislature and signature of President Xi Jinping.

China is the seventh country to complete its ratification process, joining the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa, Australia, the UK and Portugal as a Member of the Observatory. National participation in the SKAO is led by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

The Convention, signed in Rome on 12 March 2019, is the founding document of the SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organisation responsible for building and operating the SKA telescopes. The Convention came into force in January 2021 and the SKAO was formally launched on 4 February at its first Council meeting.

“I am delighted to welcome China as a founding member of the SKA Observatory following this ratification,” said SKAO Director-General Prof. Philip Diamond. “Our Chinese colleagues have been great supporters of the SKA project in science, engineering and governance from the beginning. Their expertise during the design and development phases for the SKA telescopes, and the many fruitful collaborations forged between Chinese institutes and other SKAO partners, will continue to be essential as we begin construction in the coming months.”

Chinese industry led the international consortium tasked with designing the SKA-Mid telescope dishes and manufactured two prototype dishes. The two dishes were assembled in Shijiazhuang in 2018 and one remained at the manufacturing facility to undergo further performance testing, while the other one was shipped to its final location at the South African site the following year for testing in the field. Looking ahead, as a Member, China is poised to lead the delivery of the full suite of dishes that will make up the SKA telescope array in South Africa.

Another significant contribution from China to the project has been the first prototype SKA Regional Centre (SRC) at Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, which has since been joined by prototypes in more SKAO partner countries. These prototypes are paving the way for the future SRCs, an international network of high-performance computing facilities through which data from the SKAO telescopes will be processed, stored and accessed by astronomers around the world. The SRC network will provide storage for around 700PB of astronomical data per year (the equivalent of close to 1.5 million 500GB laptops).

The team behind the Chinese SRC prototype has also collaborated internationally with other SRC teams and supercomputing centres to develop SKA data pipelines which have pushed the boundaries of data processing. This work, showcased at the 2019 SKA engineering meeting in Shanghai, was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Gordon Bell Prize, the supercomputing equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

Researchers based at Chinese institutions are active in the SKA science community, with some 50 researchers participating in 13 of the SKAO’s Science Working Groups, helping to evolve and refine the science cases for the telescopes. China’s astronomy community is expanding rapidly, supported by strong investment in the field, the growth of education and training opportunities for Chinese students particularly on the data science front, and the increasing involvement of Chinese researchers in international collaborations using SKA pathfinder and precursor telescopes.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China’s Guizhou province, a stunning feat of engineering and the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, is part of the SKA pathfinder family of telescopes providing science and technology insights for the future SKAO telescopes. Inaugurated just a few years ago in 2016, FAST recently opened to the international community for the first time and has already been involved in breakthroughs, particularly in the area of pulsar science.

China’s involvement in the SKA Project also provides powerful examples of the wider impact of radio astronomy in society, from the development of a burgeoning astro-tourism industry close to the FAST site, to regular summer schools training a new generation of researchers using data from the prototype SKA Regional Centre.

“All of the original signatories of the SKAO Convention have now completed their ratification processes, and more countries are due to join the Observatory in the coming weeks and months,” Prof. Diamond adds. “That puts us in a great position as we look to the next major milestone, the Council’s decision on approval of construction, that we expect to happen very shortly.”

To read more about how China is benefitting from its involvement in the SKA project, from training young researchers to developing AI approaches, take a look at our Broader Impact of the SKAO page.