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Notes from the Chair

The Directors of SKA Organisation held a meeting at the Aemilia Hotel in Bologna, Italy on the 8th and 9th of November 2017 for the 25th meeting of the SKA Board of Directors.

Notes from the Chair of the SKA Board, 25th Meeting of the Board of Directors of SKA Organisation

Introduction from the Chair

I am delighted to have been appointed as Chair of the Board of Directors of SKA Organisation on 13 October 2017.  Born in France, I hold a Physics degree from University of Buenos Aires, and a PhD in Astronomy from Harvard University.

My career has provided me with wide-ranging experience that I look forward to applying as I lead the Board through an exciting period of governance transition as the project moves towards construction-readiness.  In summary, I was Head of Astrophysics at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, CEA (1985-93) and Director of CEA basic research in physics and chemistry (1994-97).  I was the Director General of the European Southern Observatory, ESO (1999-2007) and then High Commissioner for Atomic Energy in France (2009-12).  Since then, I am a high level Science Advisor at CEA and have been for some time Vice-President of the CERN Council, President of ESA’s Space Sciences Advisory Committee, and Vice-President Foreign Officer at the Académie des Sciences.

This was my first participation at an SKA Board meeting and I have to say that I was impressed by the spirit of co-operation and determination to drive this project forward demonstrated by my colleagues on the Board.  The meeting was a great success and I summarise some of the key outcomes below.  I was also pleased to see participation by representatives from a number of countries which aspire to become more formally engaged with the project in the near future.  Invited guests came from Australia, China, the EC, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA.  In addition, there was representation from the SKA’s Finance Committee, Science and Engineering Advisory Committee and SKA HQ.

Science, Engineering and Operations

Alistair McPherson, Head of Project, presented his Engineering Report.  He noted that, since the last Board meeting in July 2017, the SKA Office and Design Consortia have been implementing the outcome from the Cost Control Project and re-focusing their activities onto preparations for the forthcoming Element and System Critical Design Reviews (CDR). In late November 2017, the SKA Office will be conducting the System Pre-CDR Review.  This will assess preparations for Element CDRs within the Design Consortia and look at the system documentation within the SKA Office to ensure that the baseline for CDR is at a level that gives consistency.

Andrea Ferrara, Chair of the Science and Engineering Committee (SEAC), reported on the Committee’s meeting of 30-31 October 2017.  The SEAC was pleased to see the progress made to control costs on the project and, welcomed the inputs to the process from Science Assessment Panels, Science Working Groups, Focus Groups and a Town Hall meeting.  In his response to the SEAC report, the Director-General thanked the SEAC for its diligence and commended the depth of discussion over a broad range of technical and scientific topics.

Alistair McPherson presented an update on the pre-construction schedule.  The CDR close dates, which occur several weeks after the CDRs themselves and which signify the submission of amended CDR data packs, are:

Milestone Target Date
SaDT close April 2018
SDP Pre-CDR pack May 2018
TM CDR close June 2018
DSH Pre-CDR pack* June 2018
CSP CDR close July 2018
INAU CDR close July 2018
INSA CDR close July 2018
LFAA CDR close* September 2018
System CDR (incl. AIV) close December 2018
SDP CDR close December 2018
DSH Band 2 CDR close* March 2019

The Board noted that the System CDR date is dependent upon a successful conclusion of the preceding Element CDRs and that there is no contingency to allow for any slippage.  Directors were asked to protect consortia resources under their control to allow completion of Element CDR work.

Alistair McPherson and Gary Davis, Director of Operations Planning, presented an update on construction and operations costing.  The Board was informed that the latest cost estimates for the design baseline are construction (€798M), sustained operations (€89M/year), and development programme (€20M/year).  Construction and operations contingency is 15%.  At the next Board meeting, Prof. Davis will report on an external review of the methodology and assumptions that underlie the operations cost estimate.

It was recognised by the Board that most design consortia are funded up to conclusion of CDR activities, but not all design work will be complete by the closure of the System CDR in Q4 2018.  Alistair McPherson presented a review of the activities and resources required to bridge the gap between the end of CDRs and the start of construction of SKA-1.  It was agreed that Mr McPherson will initiate discussion with relevant member countries on planning for early production arrays, with a detailed ‘bridging plan’ to be submitted to the Board at its next meeting.

Gary Davis presented an update on planning for operations.  SKA Regional Centres will provide an archive of all SKA Observatory data products.  The Board supported further planning based on an SKA science archive that will support public access after expiry of a probationary period, provide an archive for data products generated by users and produce a standard set of advanced data products to form an SKA legacy archive.  Prof. Davis also reported on plans being developed for a new data centre in Cape Town which will host both the SKA Science Processing Centre (SPC) and the South African SKA Regional Centre (SRC).

The Board noted site reports from South Africa and Australia.  A major milestone has been reached in South Africa with the completion of land acquisition in the SKA core in the Karoo. The MeerKAT project remains on track to have a 64 antenna array ready to commence large survey project science at the beginning of April 2018.  In Australia, the Heritage Agreement with the Wajarri Yamatji traditional owners, which will allow surveys and low impact activities to proceed, is expected to be signed before the end of 2017 and the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory’s solar/battery power station is now operational.


Ian Hastings, Head of Procurement Services, outlined the process for issuing a non-binding procurement ‘Request for Information’ (RfI) in 2018.  The Board discussed this topic and noted that an RfI pack will be sent to Industrial Liaison Officers in member countries as well as to nominated representatives in countries which aspire to membership of SKA Organisation (UK Limited Company) or SKA Observatory (Inter-Governmental Organisation).


Simon Berry, Director of Corporate Strategy, reported on the meeting of the Strategy and Business Development Committee (StratCom) on 27-28 September 2017.  He noted the StratCom’s endorsement of the procurement Request for Information exercise, subject to finalisation of the implementation details.

Theresa Devaney, Transition Co-ordinator, provided an update on planning for the transition of SKA Organisation to an Inter-Governmental Organisation (IGO).  She reviewed the tasks undertaken by the internal SKA Office transition team, including progress on the development of a revised governance framework to support delivery of the transition plan.  The Board approved a proposal to establish a new governance body, the Transition Committee, to co-ordinate transition activities between the Board and the Convention Preparatory Task Force (CPTF).  The CPTF will be established after the signing of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory Convention and will represent the interests of the IGO until the SKA Observatory Council is formed.  Ms Devaney was tasked with developing a more detailed proposal for the Transition Committee, including terms of reference, reporting lines, etc.

Simon Berry provided the Board with an update on activities to establish the SKA Observatory IGO.  He reported the intention to invite delegations to initial the Convention before year end, which will effectively freeze the text of the document.  It is thought that signing of the Convention could take place as soon as February 2018.

Administration and Governance

Fiona Davenport, Head of HR, presented a Code of Ethics and Whistleblowing Policy.  The Board approved both documents.  The Code of Ethics defines key principles and expected professional behaviours of anyone within the SKA community, including staff, consortium members and anyone participating in meetings and activities connected to the SKA.  The Whistleblowing Policy sets out the key principles, provides guidance on how to raise a concern and details the associated procedure.  The Board requested that the Whistleblowing Policy also be applicable across the SKA community.

Colin Vincent, Chair of the Finance Committee, presented a report on the Finance Committee meeting on 4 October 2017.  Following the Committee’s recommendation, the Board approved the Director-General’s budget for 2018 and the re-appointment of RSM UK Audit LLP as the Company’s external auditors.  The Board extended the terms of Colin Vincent, as Chair of the Finance Committee, and David Luchetti, as Vice-Chair, to 31 December 2018.

The Board agreed that the over-arching objective of SKA Organisation is, in collaboration with stakeholders, to deliver the design for an instrument, SKA1, with transformational capability in radio astronomy within an agreed cost and schedule.  Further corporate objectives for 2018 are:

  • All staff are to work to ensure that SKA Organisation is an exemplar of safe and responsible practice in all it does.
  • Support and guide consortia to deliver critical design reviews (CDRs) on schedule aiming to finalise the SKA1 Design through a successful system CDR by December 2018 or otherwise as determined by the Board.
  • Support the Council Preparatory Task Force (CPTF), through the provision of appropriate policy, organisational and technical documents to ensure a smooth preparation for the formation of the SKA Observatory.
  • Ensure that the cost control processes developed in 2017 continue to be applied to both SKA1 construction and operations costs through 2018.

The Board confirmed the following future Board meetings:

SKA-BD-26: 11-12 April 2018 (Gothenburg, Sweden)
SKA-BD-27: 10-11 July 2018 (Cape Town, South Africa)
SKA-BD-28: 13-14 November 2018 (SKA HQ, UK tbc)

Dr Catherine Cesarsky
Chair, Board of Directors
SKA Organisation
22 November 2017

Below is an archive of all the previous Notes from the Chair.

25th SKA Board Meeting – November 2017

24th SKA Board Meeting – July 2017

23rd SKA Board Meeting – March 2017

22nd SKA Board Meeting – November 2016

21st SKA Board Meeting – July 2016

20th SKA Board Meeting – April 2016

19th SKA Board Meeting – November 2015

18th SKA Board Meeting – July 2015

15th SKA Board Meeting – October 2014

14th SKA Board Meeting – July 2014

12th SKA Board Meeting – March 2014

11th SKA Board Meeting – October 2013

10th SKA Board Meeting – July 2013

9th SKA Board Meeting – April 2013

8th SKA Board Meeting – January 2013

2nd SKA Board Meeting – March 2012

1st SKA Board Meeting – January 2012