SKA Organisation, SKA Global Headquarters, Tuesday 2 July 2019 – New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has announced its decision to wind down its involvement in the SKA project at the end of the current phase of the project.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation, the UK company which leads the design of the SKA project, will transition to an intergovernmental organisation, the SKA Observatory, in 2020. It is this new organisation that will lead the construction and future operation of the SKA telescopes.
“We regret the New Zealand government’s decision, indicating they will not seek any form of membership in the SKA Observatory, and hence not participate in the construction of the SKA telescopes”, said Prof. Philip Diamond, SKA Organisation’s Director-General. “We are grateful for New Zealand’s important contribution to the design of the telescopes, their expertise in computing and signal processing in particular helped us develop a solid design for the SKA’s digital and computing infrastructure, which we can now take forward to construction.”
As the SKA design is close to being finalised and teams from around the world conclude their work, the project has attracted four new members in the past year alone, including France (through a CNRS-led partnership with industry), Germany (through the Max Planck Society), Spain and Portugal. There is also significant interest to eventually join the SKA Observatory from a number of other countries, including Japan and Switzerland, while discussions have started with US institutions to establish a scientific alliance.
The SKA partnership understands the challenges faced by New Zealand in terms of competing investments for other fields of research and stands ready to welcome New Zealand back should the situation change.
When did New Zealand join the SKA?
New Zealand was part of the joint Australian and New Zealand bid to host the SKA through the Australia-New Zealand SKA Coordination Committee (ANZSCC). Details of the committee’s objectives and membership are available here. New Zealand was one of the founding members of the SKA Organisation in 2011. Following the dual site decision of 2012 which jointly awarded the SKA to Australia and South Africa, it was agreed New Zealand would no longer host SKA infrastructure. In 2018 New Zealand announced its decision to seek Associate Membership of the SKA Observatory.
What has New Zealand’s involvement in the SKA been?
In the Central Signal Processor Consortium, NZ has been contributing to the SKA1-mid telescope correlator with NRC Canada, the SKA1-low telescope correlator with CSIRO and ASTRON, pulsar search with Manchester, Oxford and Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and pulsar timing with Swinburne University. In the Science Data Processor Consortium, NZ has been contributing to the imaging pipeline algorithms, analysis, and implementations together with CSIRO and Manchester, and to the compute platform middleware, software and compute node design with ASTRON, Cambridge, and Oxford.
New Zealand researchers have also been active in SKA Science teams, including Fundamental Physics with Pulsars, HI Galaxy Science, and Cosmic Magnetism.
You can find out more about New Zealand’s involvement here.
What was the level of New Zealand’s financial contribution to the SKA?
New Zealand has provided €2M to help fund the operations of the SKA Organisation since 2012. In addition, through significant government and institutional funds, it has supported the activities of a significant technical and scientific team in the specification and design of the SKA.
Will New Zealand-based scientists still be able to use the SKA?
Under the terms agreed in the SKA’s founding convention, only member or associate member countries who are contributing financially to the SKA Observatory will be able to benefit from dedicated observing time on the telescope. Currently, it is envisaged that a modest fraction of the telescope time will be open to non-member countries.