• New dimension

    New dimension

    After almost three decades in the making, the first phase of construction of the world’s largest radio telescope network, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is under way in South Africa.

    The SKA Observatory, an intergovernmental organisation, has given the go-ahead for construction of SKA-Low in Australia and SKA-Mid in South Africa, which together will make up the most complex network of radio telescopes ever built.

    A total of 197 satellite dishes will be connected in South Africa: 133 dishes with a 15m diameter, and the 64 13.5m-diameter dishes that are part of the MeerKAT telescope near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, which was a prototype instrument for SKA and was launched in 2016. In Western Australia, 131 072 antennas will be added to the network.

    More than 500 experts from 20 countries have participated in developing and testing the technologies needed to build and operate the telescopes, and 11 international consortia, representing more than 100 institutions (including research labs, universities and companies) designed the antennas, networks, computing, software and infrastructure needed for the telescopes to function.

    A total of EUR2 billion will be used for the entire project, comprising EUR1.3 billion for construction and around EUR700 million for the first 10 years of operation. Construction is set to be complete in 2029.

    6 July 2021
    Image: Gallo/Getty Images