NZ moves to cement ties with SKA

New Zealand is looking to become an associate member of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) to ensure that its scientists remain involved in the global project to build the world’s largest radio telescope. SKA consists of thousands of telescopes that are being co-sited in the deserts of Australia and South Africa. It is designed to combine radio signals from different sources, thereby making it 50 times more sensitive than any existing instrument, allowing scientist to look ten times deeper into space.

New Zealand has been a founding member of SKA, with its involvement administered through the Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment. General Manager Science, Innovation and International Dr Peter Crabtree, who represents New Zealand on SKA’s governing board, says that work is underway to negotiate a convention to establish SKA as an international organisation. As part of that process New Zealand has “expressed a desire” to become an associate member.

“The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has so far invested £2.3 million on SKA telescope over the past three years,” Crabtree says. “This expenditure includes New Zealand’s share of the SKA Organisation’s costs as well as co-funding for work by New Zealand research organisations on elements of the SKA design, particularly the telescope’s IT systems. It has also supported NZ scientists and engineers to participate in the design consortia for critical aspects of the project.”

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has met with the Director General of SKA and the Chair of the SKA Board to discuss New Zealand’s continued involvement.

Dr Crabtree says it is too early to say what the costs of an associate membership might be. However, a statement on MBIE’s website notes that membership will “allow New Zealand to make an investment that is proportionate to the size of its astronomy community.” “It will also allow New Zealand to maintain engagement with the development of the cutting-edge ICT tools required to handle the massive amounts of data the telescope will generate.

Participation in the SKA as an associate member will allow New Zealand scientists to be at the forefront of global efforts to investigate the fundamental physical properties of the universe.” While there is no physical SKA infrastructure located in New Zealand, scientists and universities have been involved in the project since its inception. SKA has just launched a new platform to showcase its key engineering milestones, and its interactive infographic shows that there are several New Zealand universities, as well as private and Government organisations, involved in working on the project.

Following SKA becoming a non-profit organisation in 2011, New Zealand submitted a joint bid with Australia to host SKA infrastructure, which would have seen remote array stations built here.

However, despite not winning the bid, New Zealand has remained close to the project.

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