Square Kilometre Array signs off on construction plans – UK last holdout before building phase begins

Now to figure out how to run 100,000-plus antennae and squeeze out 130 petabytes of data each year

The Board of the Square Kilometer Array has signed off on plans to build the colossal radio-telescope.

A note from chair Catherine Cesarsky posted on Tuesday says that a meeting conducted on September 17th and 18th considered the three core documents that describe the project – the “SKA-1 Construction Proposal”, “Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan” and the “SKA Prospectus 2020” – and formally endorsed their contents.

The Prospectus [PDF from Dropbox] explains that the project will build over 130,000 antennae in Australia, plus another 133 in South Africa, eventually totaling a square kilometer of electromagnetic-radiation-detecting apparatus. By way of contrast, the world’s largest radio telescope is the Arecibo observatory at 73,000m2. And it is out of commission due to a physical layer problem – a cable broke and some panels collapsed.

The SKA aims to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics

The prospectus also points out that the SKA will make a shedload of data – 130 petabytes of it each year is expected to reach users. And that’s after grooming to remove irrelevant data that will flow from each antenna at a rate of 8.8 terabytes per second. All that data will need to be moved from the antennae to a pair of supercomputers mightier than any currently in existence. The prospectus therefore suggests the SKA could spark breakthroughs to match the World Wide Web, which was born from CERN’s need for collaborative tools, plus more technical inventions to provide wireless comms and meet countless other technical challenges.

The documents still require signoff from one other body – the SKA Observatory Council.

At present, that Council does not exist, but that is not a cause for undue worry because it will be summoned into existence once the SKA Observatory Convention comes into force. The convention requires five signatories and Australia today did its duty, joining South Africa, Italy and The Netherlands.

The UK is expected to be the last signatory and presented the relevant treaty to Parliament in July 2019.

Get on with it, will you? Asking because once the Council comes into being, the project will move from design to building operations, which brings us closer to the real work: as the Prospectus puts it, the SKA aims to "revolutionise our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics ®

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