Perth, Australia, Wednesday 11 November – His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima were on a State visit to Australia, between the 31st of October to the 4th of November. The State visit to Australia was devoted to confirming and expanding the historic and broad bilateral ties the Netherlands has with Australia. On 1st November, the king and queen visited the Curtin University for an explanation of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
The common history between the two nations goes back to the early 17th century. In 1606 the Dutch VOC captain Willem Janszoon was the first European to set foot on Australian soil. Ten years later, Dutchman Dirk Hartog took his VOC ship ‘De Eendracht’ to anchor off the west coast of Australia. This has been celebrated in 2016 during the Dirk Hartog year.
Although the Netherlands and Australia have a rich history together, the visit is also an occasion to look to the future, an example being the SKA project. In this progressive scientific project to build the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world, astronomers and engineers from the Netherlands and Australia are again working together closely.
The Square Kilometre Array will be built on two continents, namely South Africa and Western Australia. In Western Australia, SKA-low will be built in the very remote and radio-quiet Murchison area, northeast of Perth. SKA-low will consist of around 130,000 small antennas in combination with an advanced fibre optic network and a supercomputer. In addition, there will be big data facilities for the processing of the huge amounts of data that will be produced by the antennas. SKA-low builds upon technology developed for the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope in the Netherlands and Europe, built and developed by ASTRON.
ASTRON is leading the international consortium designing the SKA-low antenna stations. Curtin University is a major partner and leading the deployment of a prototype station AAVS1. Therefore, the king and queen visited Curtin University, where they received an explanation of the project and the cooperation between the Netherlands and Australia. They saw, among others, a line up with 16 prototype antennas – which will be incorporated into a prototype station on the SKA site in the coming months. For both countries, this was an excellent opportunity to show off their role within the SKA project.