SKA final for definite actually for real type decision

So the news is out : the SKA site decision has finally been made. It was on Beeb TV , with Pallab Ghosh meandering around Jodders, triffic fun. The official SKA announcement is here and the South African Minister’s statement is here. Wommers emitted a tweet announcing that he needed a beer, so it must have been hard work in the closing stages.

They have gone for a dual-site solution. Some have suggested that this a political compromise, which could be seen as weak or as eminently sensible, depending on your point of view. Others have worried that a dual site solution will increase cost and complexity. Yet others (eg Pallab Ghosh in a tweet) have suggested that basically the Australians have been thrown a bone, with most of the antennae being located in SA.

I think these are all wrong. Whatever the actual reasoning was behind the decision, the result is that the project will build two complementary telescopes, building on the technology leads already taken by the two hosts. South Africa will build a long-baseline high resolution single pixel type array, aiming at small deep fields. Most of the cosmologists willl love this. Oz will build a lower resolution wide field array, with beam forming and focal plane arrays, aimed at the maximum possible mapping speed for large areas. Well Jeez, that sounds like a good plan. The antennae ? Well, they are all coming from China anyway. (They are building their own low frequency array by the way…)

The only danger is that this arrangement will devolve into two distinct projects, or that one collapses while the other gets the money. But as long as the partners are determined to stick together…

So. Anyhoo. From the SCIENCE point of view, this looks to me like a GOOD PLAN.

8 Responses to SKA final for definite actually for real type decision

  1. John Womersley says:


    I completely agree. One of the key points from the working group that looked at dual-site options was that proceeding this way actually delivers more science in SKA phase I than the baseline plan. This is because we will be making full use of both ASKAP and MeerKAT investments. The whole thing will be operated as a single “SKA observatory.”


    PS yes, it was quite hard work – I have completely lost my voice and am only able to communicate by e-mail today 😉

  2. Albert says:

    I would agree: this seems a good solution. Australia gets to build the southern LOFAR (SOFAR? SLOwFAR?). South Africa gets the dishes. Chile already has ALMA, and if Antartica gets infrared and sub-mm, every southern continent has something. Both MeerKAT and ASKAP get more dishes, so there may be some interesting competition here. The upper frequency range for the SKA (where my interests are) may need revisiting, as MeerKAT planned for higher frequencies than the SKA envisaged. Will there be a frequency gap between the SKA and ALMA? What will happen to the already approved science programs for ASKAP and MeerKAT?

  3. […] was to split the project between both. At first sight this looks like a political compromise, but wiser heads than me disagree and say that this an excellent outcome on science grounds. I’d be interested to hear […]

  4. andyxl says:

    I guess the main cost issue is that both sites will need an HQ, observatory infrastructure, massive computer etc, and both will want a huge power supply. But if done right – solar array – the latter could be an environmental benefit anyway. I heard yesterday from an ICRAR insider that they already have a Pflop computer and a test solar array.

  5. […] know what the scientific implications really are. For that, I will defer to Peter Coles and  Andy Lawrence. Andy argues convincingly that it’s actually a pretty good decision for SKA science. Some […]

  6. andyxl says:

    The SA SKA project has released a nice clear FAQ about the dual site decision. Recommended reading.

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