SKA Preconstruction update

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics


The Square Kilometre Array is a large international project to design and build the world's largest radio telescope. It will consist of two arrays of antennas: SKA-Mid, consisting of 200 dish antennas, in South Africa and SKA-Low, in Australia. This grant supports the contribution of Oxford University to four of the consortia which are developing the detailed design of the SKA. The Low Frequency Aperture Array is one of the major elements of SKA-Low, comprising an array of 130,000 antennas working at frequencies up to 350 MHz (similar to FM radio). Oxford is leading the design of the hardware that will process the signals from these antennas and combine them in to many hundreds of 'virtual dishes', that can be pointed and steered electronically. In the Central Signal Processing consortium, we are designing the electronics that will search the signals from the LFAA and the dish arrays for transient and repeating signals, such as those from pulsars. In the Science Data Processor consortium we are developing software systems that will process the huge amounts of data coming out of the SKA, automatically producing science data products that astronomers can use, and storing and disseminating these data around the world. In the Dish consortium we will develop the prototype feed package which includes the integration of the cryogenic cooling, feed horns, low noise amplifiers, RF gain chain and all relevant support equipment in to a complete package that will be tested on the prototype SKA dish antenna. Much of the work, particularly in the hardware design, is being done in collaboration with UK companies who will also benefit from this research as they help us to develop state-of-the-art signal processing systems, which can have applications in many fields outside of radio astronomy.

Planned Impact

The research covered by this grant will use equipment supplied by high-tech industry in the UK. Following on from the development work supported in this grant, the SKA Organisation will procure the production systems needed to construct the telescope, placing production contracts according to a full tender exercise to which UK companies will be able to bid.


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Description This award has been used to advance the design of the Square Kilometre Array towards construction readiness. Advanced designs now exist in the areas to which we have been contributing - software systems, detection of pulsars, receiver design, signal processing hardware and software.
Exploitation Route This work will be used to deliver the SKA and enables all its scientific outputs.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)




including Industrial Biotechology

Description SKA Aperture Array Delivery Consortium 
Organisation ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (Astron) leads this consortium of several research institutes which is designing systems for the Square Kilometre Array. Oxford is contributing to the design of the digital signal processing system and the overall system design.
Collaborator Contribution Other partners are contributing design to all other aspects of the SKA low-frequency aperture array system.
Impact Design documents internal to the SKA project.
Start Year 2013
Description SKA Central Signal Processing Consortium 
Organisation NRC Canada
Country Canada 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution NRC leads the SKA central signal processing consortium. Oxford contributes design of signal processing systems for detection and analysis of pulsar signals.
Collaborator Contribution Other consortium members provide designs of other aspects of the SKA signal processing system including beamformers and correlators.
Impact SKA internal project documents
Start Year 2013
Description SKA Dish Consortium 
Organisation Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution CSIRO leads the SKA Dish consortium which is designing the dish antennas and receivers for the SKA. Oxford is leading the design of one of the receiver packages.
Collaborator Contribution Other consortium members are designing the dish antennas and other receiver packages.
Impact SKA internal project documents
Start Year 2015
Description SKA Science Data Processing Consortium 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Department of Physics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Cambridge leads the SKA consortium planning the science data processing system. Oxford contributes expertise in algorithms and high performance computing.
Collaborator Contribution Other consortium members contribute many areas of expertise in scientific computing.
Impact SKA internal project documents.
Start Year 2013
Title SKA cryogenic receiver 
Description A multi-feed receiver with low noise, high efficiency when installed on a suitable antenna, low power consumption and low manufacturing costs. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Potential for UK manufacture for the SKA. 
Description Oxford Astrophysics Stargazing event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Oxford Astrophysics holds an annual 'Stargazing' public event with ~500 attendees. Staff from this research project take part in talks and demonstrations explaining the SKA project and astrophysics in general to the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
Description SKA stand at Bluedot Festival, Jodrell Bank 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Members of our research group staffed an SKA stall at the Bluedot Festival (music/science) at Jodrell Bank in 2016 and 2017. They explained the SKA project and astronomy in general to members of the public (several hundred encounters from the ~5000 people attending the festival). Our staff reported strong interest and appreciation from the members of the public they spoke to.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017