Square Kilometre Array: Towards Construction

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Physics


The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world's largest, most sensitive radio telescope and will deliver transformational science. It will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. The SKA is a global project, currently with 12 full members. The observatory will be sited in three countries and continents with the headquarters in the UK and two telescope sites one in South Africa and the other in Western Australia.

The UK has been heavily involved in the design work for the telescope, leading several key areas. We now seek to capitalize on this leadership by positioning the UK to win contracts during SKA construction, particularly in the areas of software development, consultancy and support for hardware systems delivery, and also to continue participation in the development of Regional Centres and thereby to maintain the leadership position we have established so that future participation in the Advanced Instrumentation Programme and future directions of the instrument will be maintained.

The UK has successfully led two of the SKA international design consortia, Science Data Processing (SDP) and Signal and Data Transport (SaDT). In addition, UK teams have led the design of the Non-Imaging Processor (NIP), the core sub-system for Pulsar science; Observation Management (OM), part of the Telescope Manager; the Band 5 (4.6-15.4 GHz) feed package for SKA1-MID; and the log-periodic antennas (SKALA4) and beamformer digital system for SKA1-Low.

The focus of this application is therefore to maximise the UK role and return in the construction phase of the SKA and to help ensure the best possible facility for the UK community. To achieve this objective we propose a programme of work in those areas we have already established leadership. In addition to the technical deliverables the programme also needs to: ensure we retain the expertise and skills developed during the pre-construction period and interest from UK industry in preparation for construction; work with industry partners and international partners to prepare to respond to tenders for construction work when they become available; establish a UK SKA project office bringing together and strengthening policy and engineering activity.

Planned Impact

The SKA is a major new global astronomy facility. It will be operated as an observatory with time awarded via competitive application for observing time. At the same time, the SKA project is a major technical challenge especially within the area of High-performance computing, "Big Data" technologies and energy efficient computing.

The output of the work to be supported by the application will be to support a programme of work to prepare the UK for construction. The delivery of the SKA itself will benefit the full academic astronomy community within the partner countries and more widely. In addition the key science goals for the instrument are at the core of modern cosmology and physics and the results will have significant impact beyond the astronomical community both within scientific community more widely but also to Society via our better understanding of the Universe and fundamental physics. The continued UK leadership in key areas will ensure the UK astronomical community is ideally placed to maximise return from the SKA when operational.

The proposed work will also have a much wider impact. Most critically the UK, as the global host, has committed £100m to the construction phase. Ensuring the maximal possible return to UK through contracts exceeding the level of the UK's fair work return is critical. The proposed programme of work is designed to maximise the UKs opportunities for winning construction contracts.

The SKA is widely recognised as the next BigData challenge within science. As such the required design is pushing the boundaries of those technologies needed to process, analyse and store streaming data. These technologies are critical to the SKA, but are also of wide and general applicability across a broad range of market sectors from standard Data Centres to the analysis and management of data from sensor networks such as those associated with Smart Cities. Via collaboration with major industry partners in the ICT sector and the targeted contracts to be managed as part of this work, the design work has resulted in an innovative software architecture. As part of the proposed work here this design will be progressed to a substantive early demonstrator of these technologies. The UK leadership in technology areas from Signal transport, through low-noise receivers and the low-frequency aperture arrays all generate not only significant opportunity for construction contracts but additional IP.
1. IP will be developed via this work either jointly or within the industry partners. The IP arrangements in place enable industry partners to exploit this IP while retaining necessary rites for the delivery of the SKA. If the IP is jointly developed appropriate sharing of the results of the impact will be put in place following standard procedures.
2. The SKA design work will provide a focus for some industry partners to develop modified or new products and services which will have wider impact.
3. Direct funding of design work will be undertaken as part of this work. Exploitation of IP derived in this way will be determined by the contractual arrangements with those companies winning competitive tenders while ensuring the delivery of the SKA design according to the SKA IP policy.


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Description SKA Organisation 
Organisation SKA Square Kilometre Array
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Collaboration is on various aspects of the SKA work particularly for the software development.
Collaborator Contribution Partners of the SKA Organisation and other contributors provide software manpower to the development work led by the UK/Cambridge
Impact Outputs are software artefacts for the SKA project
Start Year 2019
Title SKA Software for the Science Data Processor 
Description The software is being continuously developed for the SKA project t and will be further developed during the construction phase of the project. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2021 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The software address the implementation of the SKA software architecture