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Information regarding the SKA Headquarters selection process

The two bids to host the SKA Observatory. On the left, the extension to the current headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory proposed by the UK. On the right, the Padua Castle currently housing INAF's Astronomical Observatory in Padua. Italy's proposition is to house the SKA Observatory in the south wing of the castle, highlighted in green.

The two bids to host the SKA Observatory. On the left, the extension to the current headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory proposed by the UK. On the right, the Padua Castle currently housing INAF’s Astronomical Observatory in Padua. Italy’s proposition is to house the SKA Observatory in the south wing of the castle, highlighted in green.

“SKA Organisation (SKAO) is supported by public funding from 11 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. As such, it is accountable to the taxpayers of these countries. SKAO is an example of international collaboration and is committed to openness and transparency about all its processes.

The SKAO Headquarters is currently located at Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK. As the project evolves from its current pre-construction phase to the construction and operation of the SKA Observatory from 2018 onwards, it is planned that the current structure will evolve towards an Inter-Governmental Organisation governed by a treaty – in a similar way to ESO or CERN – a governance structure that is regarded as essential to build and operate a global project of the scale of the SKA on a 50 year lifetime. The new entity – the SKA Observatory – will need a permanent headquarters for its planned 50+ years of existence.

In accordance with this, in 2014 a bid was opened to the SKA member countries to host the permanent headquarters of what will become the SKA Observatory. Both Italy and the UK submitted bids, the UK offering to expand the current SKA Organisation headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, and Italy offering to host the headquarters in Padua.

To ensure a fair and balanced process that would not put any country at a disadvantage compared to the current host, only site-specific criteria were defined to assess the bids initially (outlined in the table below). The SKA Board had highlighted the need to consider additional criteria – encompassing the wider impact on the project – at a later stage before making a final selection.

SKA HQ initial selection criteria

Willingness to Host:

  • Ability to contribute Host Premium;
  • Ability to support SKA as an Inter-Governmental Organisation.

Quality of Infrastructure:

  • Meeting/Conference Rooms;
  • Laboratories;
  • ICT Requirements;
  • Working Environment.

Ability to attract world-class staff:

  • Research environment;
  • Ease of Entry;
  • Opportunities for families.

Global Connectivity:

  • Transport/Comms links.

An independent Headquarters Selection Advisory Panel (HQSAP) was formed – with representatives from Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) – to review both bids and to make a recommendation based on the site-specific criteria, to be submitted to the SKA member countries for their consideration before making a decision. The SKA Member Representative from Canada, Dr. Gregory Fahlman, was appointed independent Chair of the meetings considering this selection process.

The two proposals were assessed by the panel, which visited both sites at the beginning of February before issuing their report shortly before the SKA Board meeting held the week of March 2, 2015. Both proposals met all the criteria and exceeded some, with Italy exceeding more criteria than the UK. On that basis the advisory panel recommended that the Italian bid best met the selection criteria. In their report, the panel acknowledged that the criteria did not encompass all aspects of the selection process.

The recommendation was discussed at the SKA Members meeting, and all Members acknowledged the excellent work performed by the panel. Given that both bids met the criteria, in order to reach an informed decision, the Members requested both bidders to submit a best and final bid by 20th March. These should describe, but not necessarily be limited to, risks and their mitigation, taking at least a 10 year perspective, in the categories of:
– financial commitments (including if unsuccessful);
– operational and schedule matters; and
– organisational and reputational matters.

The HQSAP has been asked to provide a comparative analysis of both final bids, supplemented by input from the SKA Office to assess the financial, organisational and schedule impacts of a potential HQ move on the project.

The SKA Members will meet towards the end of April to discuss both final bids, their respective benefits, and the implications of choosing one location over the other for the permanent SKA HQ. It is expected that a decision can be reached at this meeting.

SKA Organisation is extremely satisfied with the process so far and the professionalism shown by the HQSAP and SKA Organisation Members and is confident the final decision, whatever it is, will ensure the best possible outcome for the SKA project.

SKA Organisation is committed to being transparent about this process and most importantly to remain neutral so as not to interfere with the ongoing bidding and decision-making process.”

Prof. Philip Diamond, Director General, SKA