‘Dual site’ decision for SKA

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The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project will be shared between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

South Africa was competing for the rights to build the largest radio telescope ever built, against a joint Australia/New Zealand bid.

Although early reports suggested the SKA board was favouring South Africa as a front-runner, with lower costs and a higher altitude for the project site, a “dual site” decision has been taken, splitting the project between the two proposals.

John Womersley, SKA board chairman, announced the decision at a press conference in Amsterdam this afternoon.

The SKA project will operate a radio telescope aggregating signals from thousands of small antennas spread across a square kilometre – one million square metres. Such sensitivity – estimated to be 50 times greater than other telescopes – is expected to yield insight into many fields of astronomy, including the early evolution of the universe, the nature of gravity, and potentially life beyond our solar system.

The SKA budget of €1.5 billion will be split between the sites, with construction scheduled to begin in 2016. It is expected that some elements will be operational by 2019, with full operation under way in 2024.