SKA Global Headquarters, 25 February 2019 – The two engineering consortia tasked with designing all the essential infrastructure for the SKA sites in Australia and South Africa have formally concluded their work, bringing to a close nearly five years of collaboration both within and between the consortia.
Infrastructure Australia (INAU) and Infrastructure South Africa (INSA) were each led by institutions with great expertise in radio astronomy projects: Australia’s CSIRO, which designed, built and operates the SKA precursor telescope ASKAP at its Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO); and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), which designed, built and operates the SKA precursor telescope MeerKAT. Industry partners also played key roles in both consortia*, while the European Union’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 awarded an additional €5M to conduct further work at both sites and at the SKA Global Headquarters in the UK.
The consortia were responsible for designing everything required to be able to deploy and operate the SKA in its two host countries, from roads, buildings, power, to RFI shielding, water and sanitation. Both CSIRO and SARAO developed valuable expertise from delivering the two precursor telescopes, which they applied to their work designing the SKA’s site infrastructure.
“This is the culmination of many years of development on both sites in preparation for the start of construction of the SKA,” says Gary Davis, the SKA’s Director of Operations Planning and chair of the review panel. “Both consortia have done a stellar job in collaboration with one another to design the crucial infrastructure that’ll support the SKA.”
A major goal of the two consortia was to collaborate with each other in order to develop a common engineering approach, share knowledge and provide lessons learnt through the design and delivery of SKA precursors.
“From the start we developed what we called the GIG, the good ideas group” says Ant Schinckel, Infrastructure Australia’s Consortium Lead. “Our engineers would continuously engage with each other to discuss issues in both countries and find common solutions that could be applied to both sites” complements Tracy Cheetham, Infrastructure South Africa’s Consortium Lead.
“I’d like to thank both teams for their excellent work” said Martin Austin, the SKA’s Infrastructure Project Manager “The quality of the design and their approach to safety means that we can now carry this work forward with a high degree of confidence, supported by both CSIRO and SARAO and their industry partners.”
INAU and INSA formed part of a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia, representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries. Nine of the consortia focused on the SKA’s core elements, while three others were tasked with developing advanced instrumentation.
In 2018 and 2019 the nine consortia are having their Critical Design Reviews (CDRs), during which the proposed design must meet the project’s tough engineering requirements to be approved, before a construction proposal for the SKA can be developed.
In June and July 2018, both infrastructure consortia had successful CDRs and subsequently made the final refinements to their designs. With that work complete the consortia now formally disband, although the SKA will continue to work closely with former members in the months ahead as the overall System CDR approaches, to ensure that the infrastructure design aligns with all of the other components.
*Infrastructure Australia consortium members included the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Aurecon Australia and Rider Levett Bucknall. Infrastructure South Africa consortium members included the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), Aurecon South Africa and HHO Africa.
About the SKA
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester, UK. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.
The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA will be constructed in Australia and South Africa; with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.
Already supported by 12 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – the SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions in the design and development of the telescope.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. For more than 60 years CSIRO has been a world leader in radio astronomy, managing the Australian Telescope National Facility, which includes the famous Parkes radio telescope, and constructing SKA precursor ASKAP in Western Australia.
The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) spearheads South Africa’s activities in the SKA, in engineering, science and construction. SARAO is a National Facility managed by the National Research Foundation and incorporates radio astronomy instruments and programmes such as the MeerKAT and KAT-7 telescopes in the Karoo, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng, the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (AVN) programme in nine African countries as well as the associated human capital development and commercialisation endeavours.