September deadline for Australia's SKA bid

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September deadline for Australia's SKA bid
SKA dishes by night. Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

Radioastronomy project coordinators reveal site selection process.

Australia will have until September to submit information supporting its bid to host the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

At the international SKA Forum in Banff, Canada this week, project coordinators unveilled their process for deciding between the two short-listed sites, Australia and South Africa.

The project involves 20 nations, each pledged to contribute to the 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) cost of building the 3,000-dish array by 2024.

Australia’s Federal Government this year committed $40.2 million over four years to its bid, expected to attract some $670 million of ICT to the country.

Under the newly announced site selection process, submitted documents will be analysed by independent consultants, expert panels and the SKA Program Development Office (SPDO) by November.

A SKA spokesman said the University of Manchester – where the SPDO is based – was appointing consultants through a competitive tender process.

Expert panels were appointed by the SKA Siting Group (SSG), which was comprised of members from the SKA Science and Engineering Committee and the Agencies SKA Group.

The SSG was charged with overseeing the technical assessment and evaluation phase of the site selection process, and reporting to the SKA Founding Board.

From November to December, an external body of independent experts operating as the SKA Site Advisory Committee would evaluate the SPDO and SSG’s findings and recommend a preferred site.

The SKA Board of Directors expected to receive a final report and recommendation between January and February and make a decision by February.

Local bid director Dr Brian Boyle said that the Australia-New Zealand team was prepared to meet the September deadline.

International coordinators called for information on radio quietness, geophysical, power, socio-economic, customs, security, tax and legal conditions, implementation plans and costs.

Dr Boyle said the Australia New Zealand SKA Coordination Committee (ANZSCC) would prepare the required documents together with an inter-governmental group comprised of the Federal, New Zealand and WA State governments.

“CSIRO is preparing the response to the technical factors, DIISR [Australia’s Department of Innovation] has lead responsibility on the other factors,” he told iTnews.

Dr Boyle previously told iTnews that he was “confident, but not complacent” about Australia’s bid, with the Government investing in telecommunications, supercomputing and radioastronomy infrastructure near the proposed site.

Professor Richard Schilizzi, director of the SKA, said this week that it would select the site with “characteristics for the best science as well as the capability and cost of supporting a very large infrastructure, taking the political and working environment into account”.

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