SKA bid wins $40.2m from Budget

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SKA bid wins $40.2m from Budget
Artist's impression of the SKA dishes. Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions.

Provisions and cuts for Australian research.

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Last night’s Federal Budget included $40.2 million over four years for the Australia-New Zealand bid to host the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The radioastronomy project involved 20 countries that would spend a total of 1.5 billion Euros ($2.1 billion) to establish a 3,000-dish array by 2024.

Australia would shoulder 10 percent of the cost if selected to host the site. Local bid director Brian Boyle was unaware of any such monetary commitment in the competing Southern African bid.

Budget 2011-12 papers indicated the Government would provide $6.3 million to support “promotion and diplomatic efforts, development of a site proposal, and negotiation with stakeholders”.

If successful, the Government promised to provide $33.9 million for pre-construction design and development work over four years. SKA construction would officially commence in 2016.

Boyle said last night’s commitment was in line with anzSKA’s offer to pay a “site premium” of between 25 and 30 percent of the 90 million Euro ($120 million) pre-construction phase.

“To date, the vast majority of funding has been from the Government,” he told iTnews, noting that organisers still hoped to attract private sector funds.

Innovation Minister Kim Carr said Australia was an “ideal candidate to host the SKA”, highlighting the availability of NBN fibre connectivity, large tracts of radio-quiet land, and scientific and technological expertise.

Southern Africa offered 12.5 million hectares of radio-quiet land, affordable land, labour and services, and “basic infrastructure of roads, electricity and communication”.

If the Australia-New Zealand bid is unsuccessful, funds will be returned to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which had a balance of $934 million this financial year.

“If the bid is not successful ... the Government will consider an alternative proposal to be a non-host partner in the pre-construction phase,” Senator Carr told iTnews today.

The project was expected to generate local opportunities in computing, renewable energy and communications. Australian researchers expected a third of SKA funds to be spent on ICT.

Of the $33.9 million to be spent on pre-construction, Senator Carr said approximately $9.8 million would go to the international SKA Project Office.

The remaining $24.3 million was intended for “pre-construction work packages to be undertaken by Australian institutions and industry”.

Read on to Page 2 for budget highlights from the Innovation, Industry, Science and Research portfolio.

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