Print this page

Hundreds of the world’s experts engaged in the final race for designing the largest radio telescope on earth

4 November 2013, SKA Headquarters, Jodrell Bank Observatory, UK –   The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project enters a new era and takes a major step towards the start of the construction of the world’s largest radio telescope, after the announcement today of the teams who will be responsible for its final design. In total, more than three hundred and fifty scientists and engineers, representing 18 nations and drawn from nearly one hundred institutions, universities and industry have the challenging task to work on the critical detailed design phase which will usher in the most sensitive and powerful telescope ever devised.

This is a level of engagement only seen in revolutionary projects!”, said Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation. “That we have been able to pull together a team of some of the world’s best experts, most prestigious institutions and major companies reflects the passion and ambition of the scientific and engineering communities to work on an inspirational world-class project of the scale of the SKA.

The funding made available by the partners for this detailed design phase is €120Million.

The SKA is a global endeavour and one of the largest and most ambitious scientific projects in history. From 2018 onwards, eventually thousands of large dishes and literally millions of radio receivers, will be deployed in desert regions in Africa and in Australia, eventually making the SKA one of the true giants of the astronomical and scientific world.

During 2013 the SKA Organisation sent out invitations to research organisations and industry partners around the globe to participate in the analysis and design of the components of the SKA during its three year detailed design phase. This request for proposals included a conceptual design of the telescope, a work breakdown structure, a statement of the work required and additional reference documents. As with other projects of this magnitude, such as the development of the Large Hadron Collider or major space programmes, the SKA has been broken down into various modules called “Work Packages”. Each of these Work Packages will be managed by a consortium of international experts.

Each element of the SKA is critical to the overall success of the project, and we certainly look forward to seeing the fruits of each consortium’s hard work shape up over the coming years”, said Professor John Womersley, Chairman of the SKA Board. “Now this multi-disciplinary team of experts has three full years to come up with the best technological solutions for the final design of the telescope, so we can start tendering for construction of the first phase in 2017 as planned. The Directors of the SKA Board feel that the consortia selected represent some of the world’s very finest scientists and engineers.

Each consortium has provided detailed management and verification plans, schedules, milestones and budgets for the various elements with which they have been tasked. The strategic aim of the SKA Organisation, which is coordinating the global effort, is that the work undertaken within each of the consortia is focused on these specific elements of the SKA project and that their work will span the entire pre-construction period and meet critical design reviews along the way.

Analogous to a jigsaw puzzle, the consortia teams will be called upon to ensure that their various elements integrate and interface as seamlessly as possible.

With a collecting area of one square kilometre (one million square metres), the scale of the SKA represents a significant step forward in engineering. When operational, the SKA telescope will provide a monumental increase over current scientific capabilities and be able to address some of humankind’s greatest questions, such as our understanding of gravity, the nature of dark energy, the very formation of the Universe and whether or not life exists elsewhere.

Notes for editors
As follows is a brief technical description of each of the Work Packages and links for more information on the Work Packages and the selected Consortia:

The “Dish” element includes all activities necessary to prepare for the procurement of the SKA dishes, including local monitoring & control of the individual dish in pointing and other functionality, their feeds, necessary electronics and local infrastructure. DSH includes planning for manufacturing of all components, the shipment and installation on site of each dish (including feeds and other components) and the acceptance testing.
The Dish Consortium is led by Dr. Mark McKinnon of CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) in Australia.

The “Low Frequency Aperture Array” (LFAA) element is the set of antennas, on board amplifiers and local processing required for the Aperture Array telescope of the SKA. LFAA includes the design of the local station signal processing and hardware required to combine the antennas and the transport of antenna data to the station processing. The local monitoring & control including the software of the aperture array are included. LFAA includes the different types of stations necessary as defined by the baseline reference design.
The Low Frequency Aperture Array Consortium is led by Jan Geralt Bij de Vaate of ASTRON (Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) in the Netherlands.

The “Mid Frequency Aperture Array” element, part of the SKA Advanced Instrumentation Programme, includes the activities necessary for the development of a set of antennas, on board amplifiers and local processing required for the Aperture Array telescope of the SKA. MFAA includes the development of local station signal processing and hardware required to combine the antennas and the transport of antenna data to the station processing.
The Mid Frequency Aperture Array Consortium is led by Jan Geralt Bij de Vaate of ASTRON (Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) in the Netherlands.

The Telescope Manager (TM) when complete will be responsible for the monitoring of the entire telescope, the engineering and operational status of its component parts.
The TM consortium is led by Professor Yashwant Gupta of the NCRA (National Centre for Radio Astrophysics) in Pune, India.

The Science Data Processor (SDP) consortium will focus on the design of the computing hardware platforms, software, and algorithms needed to process science data from the correlator or non-imaging processor into science data products. The data rates involved in this will exceed that of the entire global internet traffic.
The SDP consortium is led by Professor Paul Alexander of the University of Cambridge, UK.

The CSP is the central processing “brain” of the SKA. It converts digitised astronomical signals detected by SKA receivers (antennas & dipole (“rabbit-ear”) arrays) into the vital information needed by the Science Data Processor to make detailed images of deep space astronomical phenomena that the SKA is observing. It will also design a “non-image processor” in order to facilitate the most comprehensive and ambitious survey yet to find new pulsars and precisely time known pulsars.
The CSP consortium is led by David Loop of the NRC (National Research Council of Canada), Canada.

Signal and data transport is the backbone of the SKA telescope. The Signal and Data Transport (SADT) consortium is responsible for the design of three data transport networks. These include the Digital Data Backhaul (DDBH) that transports signals from the radio telescopes to the Central Signal Processor (CSP), and data products from the CSP to the Science Data Processor (SDP) and from the SDP to the regional SKA Data Centres. The total data rates are very high, approximately 80 Tb/s for the DDBH links and another 80Tb/s (Terabits per second) for the CSP links.
The SaDT Consortium is led by Professor Richard Schilizzi of the University of Manchester, UK.

The “Assembly Integration and Verification” element includes the planning for all activities at the remote sites that are necessary to incorporate the elements of the SKA into existing infrastructures whether these be precursors or new components of the SKA. AIV does not include design of new components of the SKA.
The AIV consortium is led by Dr. Richard Lord of SKA South Africa.

Infrastructure (INFRA) for the SKA requires two consortia, each managing their respective local sites in Australia and Africa. INFRA-AUS and INFRA-SA have the huge task of taking care of all SKA Infrastructure on continent wide scales. This includes all work undertaken to deploy and be able to operate the SKA in both countries such as roads, buildings, power generation and distribution, reticulation, vehicles, cranes and specialist equipment needed for maintenance which are not included in the supply of the other elements. Infrastructure does not include access rights to the land, environmental protection or monitoring. Infrastructure does not include protection from external sources of interference. Infrastructure includes the provision of any site wide safety systems necessary for personnel and equipment safety.
The INFRA-SA Consortium is led by Ms Tracy Cheetham of SKA South Africa.
The INFRA-AUS Consortium is led by Dr. Michelle Storey of CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) in Australia.

The “Wideband Single Pixel Feeds” element, part of the SKA Advanced Instrumentation Programme, includes the activities necessary to develop a broadband spectrum single pixel feed for the SKA.
The WBSPF Consortium is led by Professor John Conway of Chalmers University, Sweden.

Quotes from some members of the selected consortia

  • Quote from Brent Carlson, CSP Consortium Lead Systems Engineer, National Research Council of Canada (NRC): “This is an exciting and challenging project that will engage world experts in its design and construction. This is a telescope that will tell us fundamental things about the nature of the universe, and to be involved in it is indeed a great privilege.
  • Quote from Tracy Cheetham, INFRA SA Consortium Lead, SKA South Africa: “The INFRA SA Consortium is looking forward to working with multi-faceted international organisations represented in each Consortium to ensure the successful design and delivery of SKA1. Our Consortium is thrilled to be part of a global mega-science project and excited by the design challenges presented by the SKA. We hope to add great value with the experience gained on the design and construction of the SKA pathfinders.
  • Quote from Dr. Steve Torchinsky, MFAA Consortium Project Scientist, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) Observatoire de Paris-Nançay, France: “The fully sampled field-of-view, of the order of 100 square degrees, will make the SKA Mid Frequency Aperture Array effectively a 10-gigapixel ultra wide field spectroscopic camera.
  • Quote from Professor John Conway, WBSPF Consortium Lead, Chalmers University, Sweden: “Wide band Single Pixel Feeds are a relatively mature technology that can be developed further within this programme to provide the SKA the capability to cover wide frequency increasing the discovery space for the SKA.
  • Quote from Dr. Mark McKinnon, Dish Consortium Lead, CSIRO, Australia: “Starting the SKA detailed design is exciting because we are taking the first steps towards making the vision of SKA a reality. The Dish Consortium faces many design challenges, but our team has the expertise to address them.
  • Quote from Dr. Michelle Storey, INFRA AU Consortium Lead, CSIRO, Australia: “The SKA is a complex global project with challenging infrastructure demands and we will benefit from the extensive experience and skills of all of our partners. This includes Aurecon who will be leading the technical activity in the Australian Infrastructure Consortium. We’re absolutely delighted to have a role in developing this next generation telescope.”
  • Quote from Professor Paul Alexander, SDP Consortium Lead, University of Cambridge, UK: “We are thrilled to be able to build on the decades of expertise we have in the University to contribute to this project, which is the exemplar “big data” project of this generation.
  • Quote from Professor Peter Hall, LFAA Consortium Project Scientist, Curtin University, Perth, Australia: ”No moving parts are used in the LFAA, it being a true all-electronic telescope, based on stationary antennas and having a capability enabled by advanced signal processing and computing, the capacity of which grows with time“.

About the SKA
The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a radio telescope, and will deliver a correspondingly transformational increase in science capability when operational.

Deploying thousands of radio telescopes, in three unique configurations, which will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence. The SKA telescope will be co located in Africa and in Australia. It will have an unprecedented scope in observations, exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times, whilst also having the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel. With a range of other large telescopes in the optical and infrared being built and launched into space over the coming decades, the SKA will perfectly augment, complement and lead the way in scientific discovery.

The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and to centralise the leadership of the project. Ten countries are currently members of the SKA Organisation – Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. India is an Associate Member. Further countries have expressed their interest in joining the SKA Organisation in the coming years.

Contact Information
William Garnier
Communications and Outreach Manager, SKA Organisation
Phone: +44 (0) 161 306 9613

SKA website: