On Thursday 5th of June, 2014, in an official letter signed by Dr. Georg Schütte, the State Secretary of BMBF, the German federal science ministry, Germany officially informed the SKA Director-General of its intent to leave the SKA Organisation.
Under the current legal agreements signed by both parties, Germany’s membership of SKA Organisation will thus end on June 30, 2015.
SKA Organisation regrets this decision, and understands it is driven by difficult national financial circumstances around the funding of large research infrastructures in Germany and Europe and that it by no means reflects a lack of confidence in the SKA project.
While this is disappointing news, the decision to leave SKA Organisation in a year’s time will have no immediate consequences on the project due to the limited German federal funding that has been issued so far. Involvement from German institutions, industry and scientists in the SKA’s science working groups and in design work through the design consortia is unlikely to be affected in the short-term. However, as the project enters its construction phase in 2017/18 German industry will be most affected by this decision, as it will no longer be in a position to bid for major engineering contracts to be awarded for construction of the SKA. In addition, following the recent Board approval of the SKA Access Principles, the ability of the German science community to use the telescope will be compromised.
The SKA has been hailed as the world’s next big science project after the Large Hadron Collider and the International Space Station. It will bring together thousands of scientists and engineers to tackle the immense engineering challenges behind building the world’s largest radio telescope, with clear spinoffs in data storage and transport, signal processing, new developments in computing and many more. Investment in research and innovation and participation in major international collaborations is beneficial to the national economies involved, stimulating growth, and supporting highly-qualified local employment.
To date, over 120 million euros have been invested in 20 countries to support some 500 scientists and engineers working on designing the SKA. In March of this year, the UK was the first country to announce a firm commitment of £100M for SKA construction; this is in addition to the hundreds of millions of euros already provided by the two SKA host countries, Australia and South Africa, in building the SKA precursors: ASKAP, MWA and MeerKAT.
SKA Organisation will continue to work alongside colleagues from the German scientific community and industry. German scientists in particular play a strong role in defining and advancing the science to be done with SKA.
It is the hope of the Organisation that the financial climate will improve sufficiently in the coming year for the German Ministry of Science to reconsider its decision.
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