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International partners join forces and agree funding for detailed design of Square Kilometre Array telescope

World’s biggest telescope project takes crucial step forward as it forms company to run project

23 November 2011, London, UK – Seven national governmental and research organisations today announced the formation of the SKA Organisation, an independent, not-for-profit company established to formalise relationships with international partners and centralise the leadership of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project. The signatories from Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK plan to spend €69M (including in-kind contributions) to fund the project in the period leading up to the construction phase which starts in 2016. Further signatories are expected to join the SKA Organisation and commit additional resources in the next six months.

The SKA is a €1.5 billion global science project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Scientists and engineers from around the world, together with industry partners, are participating in research and development for the SKA which will be capable of answering some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe. The SKA will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth.

Professor John Womersley, Chair of the founding board that prepared the formation of the SKA Organisation said: “I am delighted that the partners have recognised the scientific, economic and societal benefits that investing in international science projects like the SKA can bring.”

The new SKA Organisation will directly employ staff, have the power to make legally binding decisions and lead the work of the international partners on the design of the telescope.

Professor Richard Schilizzi, Director of the SKA project said: “We are keen to start reaping the rewards that this new structure will bring, not only to the engineering development work, but to the project as a whole.”

The office of the SKA Organisation will be located in purpose-built premises funded by the University of Manchester at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, UK. The office will take over from the SKA Program Development Office (SPDO) currently based at the University. Dr Michiel van Haarlem is to be appointed Interim Director General of the new SKA Organisation following the retirement of Professor Schilizzi at the end of the year.

The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, fibre networks, signal processing, software and computing, and power. The design, construction and operation of the SKA have the potential to impact skills development, employment and economic growth in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the host countries but in all partner countries. The SKA telescope itself will be located in either Australia–New Zealand or South Africa and other African countries. A decision on the location of the SKA telescope will be made in 2012.

Six of the seven signatories of the SKA Organisation signed the member’s agreement in London on 23rd November 2011. From left to right: Professor John Womersley - Chief Executive Officer, Science and Technology Facilities Council, UK; Dr Bernie Fanaroff - National Research Foundation, South Africa; Mrs Belinda Brown - New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner to the UK; Professor Dr Jos Engelen – Chairman, Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, the Netherlands; Dr Corrado Perna - signed on behalf of the President of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Italy, Professor Giovanni F. Bignami; Ms Patricia Kelly - Deputy Secretary, Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research; (Not present: Professor Jun Yan – Director, National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China).

Signatory organisations

Australia – Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

China – National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Italy – National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF)

New Zealand – Ministry of Economic Development

Republic of South Africa – National Research Foundation (NRF)

The Netherlands – Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

United Kingdom – Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)


About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. With thousands of receptors extending out to distances of 3 000 km from the centre of the telescope, the SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, how galaxies have evolved since then, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. More than 70 institutes in 20 countries, together with industry partners, are participating in the scientific and technical design of the SKA telescope which will be located in either Australia – New Zealand or South Africa and other African countries. The target construction cost is €1.5 billion and construction could start as early as 2016.


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Image caption: SKA dishes by night.

Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

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Image caption:Artist’s impression of the SKA dishes.

Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

For more information contact:

International project

Jo Bowler, Outreach Officer, SKA Program Development Office, UK

Office: +44 (0)161 275 4130.

Mobile: +44(0)7887 824 758



Jerry Skinner, Public Affairs Officer, Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Australia

Office: +61 2 6213 6298

Mobile: +61 410 221 806



Lijia Liu, National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China



Francesco Rea, Head of Public and Media Relations Office, INAF, Italy

Office: +39 06 35533 227

Mobile: +39 335 135 8069


New Zealand

Miles Erwin, Senior Communications Advisor , Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand

Office: +64 297 710 013

Mobile: +64 4 474 2891


Republic of South Africa

Mr Tommy Makhode, South African Department of Science and Technology, South Africa

Office: +27 12 843 6793

Mobile: +27 82 379 8268



Thabiso Nkone, NRF, South Africa

Office: 00 27 12 481 41 49
Mobile: 00 27 83 494 2322

The Netherlands

Information and Communication Department, NWO, the Netherlands

Office: +31 703440741


United Kingdom

Stephanie Hills, Media Manager, STFC, UK

Office: +44 (0)1235 445398

Mobile: +44 (0)7825 113719