7 January 2013

South Africa: Germany Joins SKA Organisation

Germany has become the 10th member of the organisation that will participate in the detailed design of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, joining existing members Australia, Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom. India is an associate member.

Construction on what will be the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope is due to begin in South Africa and Australia in 2016.

Professor John Womersley, chair of the board of the SKA Organisation, welcomed the membership of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), representing Germany.

'Excellent track record in science megaprojects'

"Germany has an excellent track record not only in radio astronomy but also in the management and delivery of science megaprojects and associated engineering. This expertise will be of great benefit to the SKA project as we move towards the construction phase of this inspirational telescope", Womersley said in a statement last month

Dr Beatrix Vierkorn-Rudolph, Deputy Director General, Federal Ministry of Education and Research and Professor Michael Kramer, Director of Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, an institute of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), have been appointed to represent Germany on the SKA Board of Directors.

Germany will contribute €1-million to the SKA Organisation, financed 50% each by the BMBF and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG).

Professor Michael Kramer, director of the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, an institute of the MPG, said the unprecedented scale of the multi-national SKA project "ensures that we will continue to be able to push the boundaries of physics and astronomy.

"The SKA genuinely has the potential to completely transform our understanding of the universe as we know it today", Kramer said in the statement.

Dual site to maximise on investments

In May 2012, the members of the SKA Organisation agreed on a dual site for the SKA to maximise on investments already made at the candidate sites in Australia and South Africa.

"Both sites offer exceptionally radio quiet environments for detecting very faint radio waves from the early universe, and many thousands of SKA receptors will soon be constructed across these two desert regions," the UK-based organisation said.

As a member of the SKA Organisation, Germany has voting rights and is eligible to appoint two representatives to the board of directors, which has the authority to appoint senior staff, decide budgets, admit new project partners to the organisation, and direct the work of the global work package consortia in the SKA pre-construction phase.

The Square Kilometre Array will have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre, giving it 50 times the sensitivity and 10 000 times the survey speed of the best current-day telescopes. It will have thousands of receptors extending to distances of 3 000 kilometres from its core regions.

The telescope is expected to 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.

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