Sweden joins global radio telescope project

PRESS RELEASE: Onsala Space Observatory, representing Sweden, has been formally accepted as a member of the international consortium which will design the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). When it is completed, the SKA will be the world’s largest and most advanced radio telescope. Among its aims is to answer fundamental questions about the universe and Earth’s place in it.

​The SKA Organization has approved Onsala Space Observatory as a new member. John Conway, deputy director of Onsala Space Observatory represented the observatory at the board meeting in Schiphol, Netherlands, on 27 June 2012, when the decision was taken.

“Our application to join the SKA has already been ratified by the Swedish Research Council and by Chalmers, and today it was accepted by the SKA Board. I’m happy to say that Sweden is now officially the SKA’s ninth member country, ready to participate fully in the design of the telescope”, said John Conway.

The SKA is a radio telescope, bigger and more complex than any previously built, which will consist of thousands of giant antennas placed on two continents. It will be built both in South Africa, with antennas in other countries in Africa, and in Australia and New Zealand. The total collecting area of all its receptors combined will be approximately one square kilometre, making the SKA the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built.

Among its scientific goals are mapping out how and where the universe formed its first stars and galaxies, probing the origins of magnetism in the cosmos, and finding out how planets form deep inside interstellar clouds.

“The SKA will be one of the 21 st century’s most important pieces of scientific equipment. For astronomers it is a long-awaited step into the future and an immensely exciting challenge. It will give us new insight into the nature of our astonishing universe and how it has become a place where life could arise”, says Hans Olofsson, director of Onsala Space Observatory.

John Womersley, chair of the board of the SKA Organization, welcomed Sweden’s formal membership.

“It’s great to have Sweden and Onsala Space Observatory in the SKA. Onsala Space Observatory has a long history of expertise in radio astronomy, which will be a huge asset as we make the technology and engineering choices which will define how the SKA will work and what it will be able to do to transform our understanding of the universe”, he said.

Sweden is welcomed as the newest member of the SKA Organization. Patricia Vogel, vice-chair of the board of directors of the SKA Organization, shakes hands with John Conway, vice director of Onsala Space Observatory.
Photo: Onsala Space Observatory/Michiel van Haarlem


Top picture: One of the possible antenna designs for the SKA, planned to be the world’s biggest radio telescope, with thousands of antennas located mainly in South Africa and Australia.
Credit: SKA Organisation/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

About the SKA
The design for the Square Kilometre Array will be finalized during the next 3 years. The project is administered by an international consortium of institutes and research councils from nine member countries: Australia, Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The SKA Organization Ltd., a company registered in the UK, is based at the University of Manchester’s observatory Jodrell Bank.

SKA will be built in two phases. Phase 1 scheduled to be completed by 2020, will cost 350 million euro. Phase 2, to be completed by 2024, will increase the total cost to about 1.5 billion euro. The current membership agreement for Onsala Space Observatory covers the design phase for the SKA between 2012 and 2015. Onsala Space Observatory will contribute expertise in antenna design and sensitive broadband radio receivers.


About Onsala Space Observatory
Onsala Space Observatory is Sweden's national facility for radio astronomy. The observatory provides researchers with equipment for the study of the earth and the rest of the universe. In Onsala, 45 km south of Gothenburg, it operates two radio telescopes and a station in the international telescope Lofar. It also participates in several international projects. The observatory is hosted by the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at Chalmers University of Technology, and is operated on behalf of the Swedish Research Council.

Funding for Sweden’s membership in the SKA during its design phase will be covered by the observatory’s budget as already approved by the Swedish Research Council. This has been approved by the observatory’s steering committee. Funding for Sweden’s membership in the SKA during its construction phase remains to be approved.


SKA homepage: http://www.skatelescope.org/


Robert Cumming, astronomer and communications officer, Onsala Space Observatory, +46 31 772 55 00 or +46 704 93 31 14, robert.cumming@chalmers.se

Hans Olofsson, director, Onsala Space Observatory,  +46 31 772 55 00, hans.olofsson@chalmers.se