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SKA Passes Overall Design Review

SKA Global Headquarters, Friday 19 December 2019 – An independent panel of external reviewers from major astronomy projects has given the SKA’s overall design, costing & planning the nod, clearing the way for the preparation of the SKA construction proposal.

After six years of work involving hundreds of engineers and scientists in 20 countries and close to 300 institutions around the world, the SKA’s overall system design – how all parts of the SKA work and interact with one another -, costing & planning has been endorsed by a panel of leading experts from ESO, NRAO, LSST, Gemini, NSF, Berkeley & Caltech universities, representing some of the biggest astronomical facilities in the world.

“If you look at what has been achieved in the last few years it is really quite remarkable,” said Dr. Adrian Russell, Chair of the Review Panel from ESO “This year in particular there has been a huge push with […] the design really coming to maturity. Certainly looking from the outside it is very, very impressive.”

In November 2013, 12 international engineering consortia were created and tasked with designing the SKA. Nine of the consortia focused on the SKA’s core elements, while three others were tasked with developing advanced instrumentation. In late 2018 and 2019 consortia started going through their Critical Design Reviews (CDRs), during which the proposed design for each of these elements had to meet the project’s tough engineering requirements to be approved. The system review was the last major hurdle to be overcome before a construction proposal can be developed.

“They have done a tremendous job of actually getting the consortia to the point where they are able to move forward with the actual construction,” said Dr. Alison Peck, member of the Review Panel from Gemini Observatory.

As part of the design work, international teams have been engaged in building and testing prototypes on the SKA sites in South Africa and Australia, in order to make sure the design can cope with the harsh environment and meet the stringent radio frequency interference requirements on site. That work is ongoing as teams refine the design of the antennas based on lessons learned in the field.

‘The team has really been outstanding and I speak not only of the team here at the HQ but also the broader team from our member institutions,” said Dr. Joe McMullin, Programme Director and Deputy Director-General of the SKA. “Having this milestone is really the foundation for everything in 2020. This is the year where we have to pull together the construction proposal itself.”

Teams will now engage in final preparations ahead of construction, addressing recommendations from the panel. as the new intergovernmental organisation that will oversee the procurement, construction and operation of the SKA starts operating.

“We’ve gotten our wish. We get to continue to move forward on the project and it is fantastically exciting to see this observatory beginning to come together,” concluded Dr. McMullin

SKA Design

The SKA design is a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries all feeding in to making the SKA a truly exceptional instrument!

The consortia are responsible for working out the look and functionality of the different elements of the SKA, and ensuring that they will all work together. With a telescope of this nature, located on two different continents and generating unprecedented amounts of data, this is a formidable challenge.

The 12 consortia are made up of research institutions and industry partners which are spread across the globe, with each one having a designated lead institution that coordinates the work. They operate in conjunction with a specialist project manager based at SKA Headquarters in the UK.

Each consortium has been tasked with designing a particular element of the SKA – from the very visible parts like the dishes or the infrastructure at each site, to the essential software and networking that will allow the SKA’s arrays to act as one enormous telescope. In the final design, the different elements will come together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

An essential part of each consortium’s role is to ensure that their design ultimately enables the SKA to achieve its science goals. This means scientists and engineers have worked closely together to ensure that the final design meets the science community’s requirements. To that end, the SKA formed the Science Working Groups (SWGs) to feed in to the process.

Since the consortia were first formed in 2013, the design of the SKA has evolved in response to available funding and to take account of scientific advances. In December 2014, the process reached its first milestone, with the start of the Preliminary Design Reviews (PDRs). Each consortium presented its detailed proposals for assessment by an expert panel from the SKA and external organisations, and the results were fed back in to the ongoing design work.

There followed three years of effort by the international consortia to arrive at the Critical Design Reviews (CDR), which began in 2018. This is one of the last and most pivotal stages before construction can begin, where the design documentation for each part of the SKA is analysed in the finest detail, and determinations are made about the readiness of the consortia. Any actions recommended by the review panel must then be completed before the designs can be formally adopted. Once all the consortia have successfully reached this stage, the SKA’s design will be complete!

About the SKA's design

The SKA Design is a global effort by 12 international engineering consortia representing 500 engineers and scientists in 20 countries. Each consortium is international in nature, representing some of the best companies and institutes in the world.

Nine of the consortia focus on a component of the telescope, each critical to the overall success of the project, while three others focus on developing advanced instrumentation for the telescope. After four years of intense design work, the nine consortia are having their Critical Design Reviews or CDRs in 2018.

In this final stage, the proposed design must meet the project’s tough engineering requirements to be approved, so that a construction proposal for the telescope can be developed.

Browse through to discover their stories of success, the profiles of key people, as well as images and videos celebrating the engineering work behind the SKA!

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