The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area.
Both South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire were chosen as co-hosting locations for many scientific and technical reasons, from the atmospherics above the sites, through to the radio quietness, which comes from being some of the most remote locations on Earth.
Around 100 organisations across about 20 countries have been participating in the design and development of the SKA and are now engaged in the detailed design of the telescope.
In the medium term, SKA requires a governance structure capable of delivering a global project. This was the impetus behind transitioning the SKA Organisation – a private, non-profit company which has overseen the telescope design phase – into the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), an intergovernmental organisation established through international treaty, similar to CERN and the European Space Agency. The Observatory will be the legal entity responsible for constructing and operating the SKA telescopes in Australia and South Africa, with its headquarters in the United Kingdom.
In March 2019, seven countries became the initial signatories to the Convention: Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Others are expected to join them in due time; India and Sweden, who also took part in the negotiations, are following further internal processes before signing the treaty. Together, these countries will form the founding members of the SKA Observatory. Organisations from fifteen countries are currently taking part in the SKA at government or national-coordination level – Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Moreover, there are eight African partner countries: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagaskar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia that will also host part of the installations.
The SKA will be developed over a phased timeline. Pre-construction development started in 2012, involving the detailed design, implementation, R&D work, and contract preparation needed to bring the SKA’s first phase to construction readiness. Construction work is likely to start in 2021. The SKA will begin conducting science observations in the mid-2020s with a partial array.