This artist’s impression collects the various distributed aspects of the SKA into a single image. The two main antenna components are “SKA-Mid” dishes to be located in South Africa and in other African partner countries (front left), and the “SKA-Low” antennas to be built in the outback of Western Australia (bottom right). Also shown are the precursor MeerKAT dishes in South Africa (background left), and the precursor ASKAP dishes in Western Australia (background right).

About the SKA

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the largest and most powerful radio telescope ever constructed. The SKA will not be a single telescope, but will be an electronically linked ensemble of thousands of individual dishes and antennas, spread over thousands of kilometres. The total collecting area of all these dishes and antennas will eventually be more than a square kilometre (one million square metres). With the unprecedented sensitivity and detail provided by this enormous facility, the SKA will answer fundamental questions in astronomy, physics, and cosmology.

The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in engineering, research, and development. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA is bringing together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to work together across international borders to bring the project to fruition.

The SKA will be the world’s largest generator of scientific data. Once completed it will generate data at rates more than ten times today’s global Internet traffic. The SKA will be powerful enough to detect very faint radio signals emitted by cosmic sources from when the first galaxies and stars were forming, at distances from Earth of more than 13 billion light years. The SKA will also answer fundamental questions about the nature and matter, space, and time.How did the Universe form and how has it subsequently evolved? Is Einstein’s theory of gravity correct? What is the nature of “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy”? What is the origin of cosmic magnetism? Is there other life in the Universe? But most excitingly, the biggest discoveries to be made by the SKA will likely be those we cannot yet predict.

The SKA was originally conceived in 1991, with an international working group established in 1993. After many years of development and discussion, the SKA Organisation became a legal entity in 2011, and the two SKA sites (South Africa and Australia) were selected in 2012. The SKA will be constructed in two phases: “SKA1” and “SKA2”. SKA1 will represent approximately 10% of the full SKA. Detailed design and preparation of SKA1 is now underway, and construction will take place from 2018 to 2023. The full SKA2 will be constructed over the period 2021 to 2030.

Ten countries are currently members of the SKA Organisation: Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Several other countries are expected to join the project in the next few years. With these countries representing about 40% of the world’s population, the SKA project is truly a global enterprise. Canada was one of six founding members of the initial SKA consortium in 2000, and has provided substantial leadership and engagement in the SKA over the ensuing 15 years.