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SKA Observatory Convention progresses through national parliaments

The SKA Observatory Convention was signed on 12 March 2019 by government representatives from (L-R in the picture) United Kingdom, China, Portugal, Italy, South Africa, the Netherlands and Australia.

SKA Global Headquarters, 30 July 2019 – The ratification process for the SKA Observatory Convention is progressing apace, with the United Kingdom and Italy both introducing legislation on the Convention to their respective parliaments.

The international document establishes the SKA Observatory (SKAO) as an intergovernmental organisation, similar to CERN or the European Space Agency and only the second in the world dedicated to astronomy after the European Southern Observatory (ESO). SKAO will take over from the SKA Organisation which has been managing the project’s design phase, and will be responsible for constructing and operating the SKA telescopes in Australia and South Africa.

After three years of negotiations, the Convention was signed by seven countries at a ceremony in Rome in March, and each is now following its own legislative process on ratification.

In the United Kingdom, one of the three host sites for the SKA as the home of its Global Headquarters at Jodrell Bank near Manchester, the Convention has now been laid before Parliament, allowing members to comment on it.

The UK motion is accompanied by an explanatory memorandum, signed by former UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore MP, noting that facilities such as the SKA which enable its scientists “to push the boundaries of what is possible, through technological advances, are essential” for the UK to maintain a leading international role in astronomy and space science.  It also highlights the SKA’s ability to “drive development of high-tech industry in the Big Data era”.

Italy, which led the multilateral negotiations on the Convention text, has also introduced draft legislation in both the Council of Ministers and the Senate.

The report attached to the draft Senate legislation states that the international scientific community “agrees that SKA will be the future of radio astronomy”. It notes Italy’s participation is important “for all scientific and technological developments in the years to come”, and as an economic and industrial driving force within Italy.

As the seven initial signatories of the Convention, Australia, China, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United Kingdom will be the founding members of the SKA Observatory, and are expected to be joined by India and Sweden, who are following their own internal processes before signing. More nations are then expected to join as the project seeks to broaden its membership still further.

The SKA Observatory will come into being when five of the signing parties have ratified the Convention, including all three SKA host countries. This is expected to occur in mid-2020.

Read more about the process of transitioning the SKA Organisation into the SKA Observatory on our website here.