The member states have finally greenlit the construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory, set to be the world's largest radio telescope, starting next month.

Following a council meeting of its sixteen member states including organizations from China, Japan, India, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States, the SKA Observatory Global Headquarters in UK made the announcement that it will soon begin the construction of two of its telescopes: the SKA-Low and SKA-Mid. These designations refer to the frequency ranges that will be covered by each of the telescope arrays.

An Artist's Impression of SKA Satellite Dishes
(Photo : SKA Project Development Office and Swinburne Astronomy Productions via Wikimedia Commons)

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A Space Project 30 Years in the Making

The green light on the SKA Observatory construction closely follows the creation of its corresponding intergovernmental organization earlier this year. Seeing rapid development, the SKA Observatory organization also released two of its key documents: the Observatory's Construction Proposal and the Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan.

The two documents have a total of 500 pages and collate hundreds of relevant documents detailing the design and engineering work done by more than 500 experts from its member states and more, in an undertaking that has taken more than seven years of intergovernmental and interdisciplinary effort. Furthermore, this includes more than 100 institutions — universities, research laboratories, private companies, government agencies — that designed all that went into what will be the SKA Observatory to be built in Australia and South Africa

"I am ecstatic. This moment has been 30 years in the making," said Prof. Philip Diamond, Director-General of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory and a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester in the UK, in a press release from the observatory. "Today, humankind is taking another giant leap by committing to build what will be the largest science facility of its kind on the planet; not just one but the two largest and most complex radio telescope networks, designed to unlock some of the most fascinating secrets of our Universe."

Additionally, Prof. Diamond extended his gratitude to everyone who helped make the project possible from all the past decades, from its inception to its design, and those who continued to labor on the SKA Observatory despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Benefits and the Purpose of the SKA Observatory

The SKA Observatory headquarters immediately touted the immediate benefits of member nations in terms of direct and indirect economic returns from the innovation and technological advancements involved in the project. From opening specialized jobs to a boost in industrial capacity, the benefits of pursuing the SKA Observatory are also detailed in its Construction Proposal.

Originally conceived in the 1990s, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory was designed to operate over a wider range of frequencies, making it about 50 times more sensitive than any other existing radio instrument. Additionally, should it be developed as originally intended, the SKA Observatory should be able to conduct astronomical surveys thousands of times faster than existing methods.

Prior to the construction of the SKA Observatory, four precursor operators are already operating in different parts of the world: the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) and the MeerKAT facilities in South Africa, and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Australia.


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