Square Kilometer Array radio telescope networks to begin construction

Two new radio telescope networks have been approved for construction by the SKA Observatory (SKAO). SKAO member states voted to approve the construction of the SKA telescopes in Australia and South Africa. The pair of telescope networks is currently designated SKA-Low and SKA-Mid, with the names describing the radio frequency ranges each network will cover.

Both radio telescope arrays are said to be the largest and most complex network of radio telescopes ever built. The decision to approve the telescope networks comes after the creation of SKAO as an intergovernmental organization earlier this year. The decision also follows the publication of a pair of key documents, including the Observatory Construction Proposal and the Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan, which were published last year.

Delivering those two documents is the cumulation of more than seven years of design and engineering work with over 500 experts from 20 different countries who have worked to develop and test technologies required to build and operate the telescope networks. Construction of the SKA telescopes promises tangible societal and economic benefits for the countries involved in the project, with direct and indirect economic returns from the innovation and technological spinoffs created by the networks.

Developing the telescope networks will also create new high-tech jobs and boost industrial capacity with participant countries. The scientific community has used other SKA telescopes for the last several years to answer fundamental questions about the universe. The procurement of major contracts for SKA telescopes is starting immediately, with some work surveys conducted in the last few weeks.

In the coming months, about 70 contracts will be placed by the SKAO within member states, with competitive bidding taking place in each country. The first significant activity on the construction sites will begin early next year, with the construction of telescopes lasting until 2028. However, early science opportunities with the arrays will start in the next few years.