12 M€ for Netherlands contribution to design of the Square Kilometre Array

Dwingeloo, 2 July 2014

A consortium consisting of ASTRON and the Universities of Amsterdam, Groningen, Leiden and Nijmegen has been awarded 12M€ for their participation in the design of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The SKA will be the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescope. Construction will start in 2018 in Australia and South Africa and the first results are expected in 2020. The announcement of funding from the second call of the Netherlands Roadmap for Large-Scale Research Facilities was made by Sander Dekker, the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, and Jos Engelen, chair of the Governing Board of Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) at an event in Leiden.

The SKA Project is an international effort to design and build a telescope composed of hundreds of dishes and hundreds of thousands of antennas connected by optical fibre to massive data processing facilities. It will address questions that only observations of the Universe at radio wavelengths can answer. The SKA will produce the first images from a time when the first stars and galaxies were forming. It will also use pulsars to detect gravitational radiation and test Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. The extreme flexibility of the SKA will also allow it to detect and identify new transient phenomena, thereby opening a new window on the variable Universe. Participation in the Square Kilometre Array is one of the top priorities of Dutch astronomy for this decade.

Eleven consortia have been selected to design elements of the telescope. ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy is leading the international consortia responsible for the design of the Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) and Mid Frequency Aperture Array (MFFA) – two types of smart antenna that will operate at lower frequencies than the more conventional dishes. The Roadmap funding will also be used to develop the software and hardware required to process the vast amounts of data that will come from the telescope. Astronomers from the NL Universities, collaborating in the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and ASTRON will be closely involved in these activities, in particular to ensure that the telescope is ready to address the most urgent topics to be studied by Dutch astronomers.

The Netherlands has played a major role in radio astronomy over the past 70 years. Experience gained in the construction and operation of the Dwingeloo 25m dish (1956), the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (1970) and most recently the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR, 2010) has equipped both engineers and astronomers to play a leading role in the design of the SKA. Technology development will be carried out in close collaboration with industry. A major challenge facing the consortia is to prepare for the construction phase, which will be on a scale that makes industry involvement essential.