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SKA Telescope - Compucon 2012-12 Print
December 2012

SKA stands for Square Kilometre Array.  SKA Telescope is an international project to build and operate the largest telescope in the history of mankind by the first half of the 21st century.  The scheduled commissioning date is 2019 for the first phase and 2024 for full scale operation.  The telescope will improve our present discovery capability by as many as 10 thousand times.

There are at least 5 objectives defined for this telescope.   The most interesting to the broad public is the search for planets in the galaxy similar to Earth and to find out if life exists elsewhere in the universe.  The next one of immense interest to the science community is the origin of cosmic magnetism.  The other 3 objectives are about black and darkness- black holes, dark matters, and dark ages. 

This telescope is not optical based but is radio.  The optical range is at the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum whereas the radio range is at the bottom end.  The telescope will have 3 types of antennae and they will pick up radio signals from the sky in 3 ranges: 70MHz to 300MHz, 300MHz to 3GHz, and 650MHz to 1.7GHz (edited 2013-05-17).  Radio actually sees more than optical such as the forces interacting between galaxies. 

These receivers are not single receivers but are groups of small receivers.  They will be built in locations arranged in a log-spiral pattern (see slide 1).  Collectively they will have an equivalent mirror size of one square kilometre.  The separation distance between the receivers is called baseline.  The baseline arrangement which is better known as Interferometry allows the telescope to peek deeper into the universe.  This telescope can see as narrow as a few micro arc-seconds.  Optical has achieved milli-arc-seconds only.


The SKA Organisation decided in May 2012 to build 50% of the receivers in South Africa and 50% in West Australia based on design studies and pilot runs among many other factors.  New Zealand is a founding member of the Organisation.  On the science side as against funding and administration, Professor Sergei Gulyaev has been a prominent radio astronomer in New Zealand and the chairperson of New Zealand SKA Organisation since 2004.  Professor is the director of AUT Institute of Radio Astronomy and Science Research which owns a radio telescope in Warkworth (see slide 2).

December 2012 is the month for the SKA Organisation to review international bids to participate in the design process.  Selected bids will be announced through Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment as far as New Zealand is concerned at the end of January 2013.

There are 12 design packages.  Our leading New Zealand bid has proposed participation in 3 of them being Central Signal Processing, Science Data Processing, and Telescope Management.  The bidding team consists largely of scientists from New Zealand universities.  It also consists of a few industry members including Compucon New Zealand.   The proposed role for Compucon in this international design project is high performance computing and heterogeneous computing.

Some fun info on SKA (see slide 3) can be found in