Editorial from the Director-General – SKA eNews – July 2015

SKA Staff - Phil DiamondDear Colleagues,

Welcome to the July 2015 edition of SKA eNews. The purpose of eNews is to provide information on the status of the project to the SKA Community and other interested people. This is done through articles submitted by our colleagues in the design consortia, from the precursor and pathfinder facilities, from the Outreach departments at SKA partner countries, from the SKA Office and also from countries considering a possible future role within the SKA. I thank all those who have contributed articles for publication.

Due to the pace of change within SKA (more on that below) we have, unfortunately, been unable to maintain the original schedule of approximately quarterly eNews releases. However, with the publication of this edition we intend to return to a more regular schedule, with three issues of eNews annually.

Progress in all areas of the SKA is impressive. Over the last 12 months we have completed the update of the SKA Science Case (now available at http://pos.sissa.it/cgi-bin/reader/conf.cgi?confid=215 and soon to be published in limited hardcopy). Through the efforts of and advice provided by an ad-hoc, external Science Review Panel we were able to prioritise the overall science goals; this prioritisation was essential input to the well-known SKA re-baselining.

Re-baselining was the process by which the SKAO, taking input from the design consortia (thanks to all consortia members and staff within SKA Office, that was a major, major effort) and advice from the Science and Engineering Advisory Committee, was able to provide a recommendation to the Board on a revised baseline design for SKA1 -the first phase of the SKA- which fit within the Board’s defined €650M cost–cap. In March of this year the Board adopted the new baseline (https://www.skatelescope.org/news/worlds-largest-radio-telescope-near-construction/). Work is now proceeding on updating the detailed design based on the Board’s decision.

The design consortia have all provided an update within this eNews on the work they’ve done over the past year, which has been really impressive. As I read the material provided a few weeks ago I note that some of it is already out of date, such is the pace of development. All core design consortia went through their Preliminary Design Reviews between December and March. The external review panels provided comprehensive reports on the work done. Five of the consortia will be going through so-called Delta-PDRs since some aspects of their designs required a little more work to reach the appropriate level for this stage of the process. This was to be expected, it is normal within major, cutting-edge projects.

Another major decision taken by the project in April this year was the selection of Jodrell Bank in the UK as the permanent HQ for the SKA. This was a hard-fought contest with both Italy and the UK providing impressive and viable bids. I thank colleagues from both countries for the huge effort they put into generating the large amount of material that formed the bids. I also thank the members of the HQ Selection Advisory Panel for their time and effort in providing advice to the SKA Members.

A third key decision was that from the Board to move towards an Inter-Governmental Organisation (IGO) governed by treaty (similar to ESO, CERN, ESA etc) as the long-term governance model for the SKA. This was a welcome and clear statement, which is now being pursued aggressively. To date six of the SKAO’s partner countries (Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK) have signed a so-called Letter of Intent, in which they agree to work towards the establishment of an IGO and to progress towards construction of the SKA. I expect more countries to sign the Letter of Intent shortly. The first concrete manifestation of this intent was a meeting in Brussels on 23-24 June, attended by eight of the partner countries plus Spain, in which the process of Formal Negotiations towards the establishment of an IGO was agreed.

So, it has been an exciting year, with huge momentum and I sincerely hope that this momentum is maintained as we finalise the SKA design both on the technical and policy front. It is shaping up to be an exciting time for us all.

I hope you enjoy reading eNews.

Philip Diamond, SKA Director-General.