From SKA and Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON): “The Netherlands makes €30m commitment to future SKA Observatory”

From SKA



Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy

28 January 2019

SKA release

Presentation of the Gemini board to to Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven in June 2018 by ASTRON engineers Gijs Schoonderbeek and Paula Fusiara. The Gemini board, developed by ASTRON in collaboration with Australia’s CSIRO and Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, is designed to process the huge volume of data from the SKA-low telescope. (Credit: ASTRON)

The Netherlands has announced it will sign the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Convention at a ceremony to be held in Rome, Italy on 12th March. The Netherlands also confirmed an initial commitment of €30 million to the future SKA Observatory, solidifying its support for the international project.

The convention will establish the SKA Observatory as an inter-governmental organisation responsible for delivering the construction and operation of the SKA, poised to be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. Once established, the Observatory will take over from the current SKA Organisation, which has managed the design phase of the multinational endeavour.

At present, six countries have confirmed their intent to sign the treaty at the ceremony in March including the SKA’s three host countries (Australia, South Africa and the UK, the latter hosting the Headquarters), Italy (which has been leading the 3+-year long negotiation process), Portugal and the Netherlands. Other current member countries of the SKA Organisation are pursuing their own internal processes and are expected to join the founding group of the SKA Observatory at a later stage.

“This is an extremely welcome announcement coming from our Dutch partners,” said Prof. Philip Diamond, Director-General of the SKA Organisation. “Investing in large-scale projects like the SKA has many benefits for the participating countries, from access to world-class facilities for their scientific community, to bidding for contracts for their industry and developing a competitive edge through innovations in high-technology. It is good to see that the Dutch government, alongside our other partners that are expected to join the SKA Observatory, recognises the value of being part of one of the most ambitious science endeavours of the 21st century.”

As an existing member of the SKAO, the Netherlands has already made significant contributions to the science and engineering effort behind the SKA, and today’s announcement confirms the country’s long-term commitment to the project. The funding contribution has been allocated by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

“These are exciting times for us”, says Prof. Carole Jackson, Director General of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), which coordinates the Dutch participation in the SKA. “The Netherlands will be a full partner in this massive global telescope to probe some of the mysteries of the Universe. We are thrilled that the Government has decided to invest in this way.”

ASTRON Release


ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, is excited that the Netherlands will partner in the construction and management of the largest radio telescope in the world, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This ambitious project will lead to major discoveries about the nature of our Universe and answer longstanding questions. The Dutch Council of Ministers has decided that the Netherlands will sign the treaty to establish the international SKA observatory. ASTRON coordinates the Dutch participation in the SKA.

Construction of the SKA will move forward over the next few years. On 12 March 2019 the international partners, now including the Netherlands, will sign a treaty agreement in Rome. The 30 million Euros allocated by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is the basis for Dutch participation to realise the SKA.

“These are exciting times for us”, says Prof. Carole Jackson, Director General of ASTRON. “The Netherlands will be a full partner in this massive global telescope to probe some of the mysteries of the Universe. We are thrilled that the Government has decided to invest in this way.”

Nine multinational consortia are finalising the design of the SKA, which is planned to start construction in 2021. ASTRON leads the consortium that develops SKA’s antenna stations in Western Australia and also plays a major role in two other consortia that design solutions to combine and further process the enormous amounts of data produced by the antennas.

The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. In Western Australia, the telescope will consist of 130,000 antennas spread over 512 antenna fields. The design is based on ASTRON’s Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope.

ASTRON LOFAR Radio Antenna Bank, Netherlands

With all these antennas SKA will generate enormous amounts of data: one petabit per second – more than three times the global internet traffic in 2018.

A network of SKA Regional Centres will process and archive the SKA data , distilling its huge volume into scientific discoveries. The Netherlands will set up a Science Data Center (SDC) to provide employment to highly educated researchers, developers and supporting (ICT) service providers. By combining forces and collaboration with other data-intensive sectors, a public-private, multidisciplinary cluster is created that focuses on data science.

Dr. Michiel van Haarlem, head of the SKA Office Netherlands at ASTRON, adds: “Within this project it has been agreed that the participating countries receive a proportional share in contracts for the construction of the SKA. Dutch companies and institutions are well positioned to win contracts in many areas, for example for the delivery of elements of the telescope and smart software.”

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LOFAR is a radio telescope composed of an international network of antenna stations and is designed to observe the universe at frequencies between 10 and 250 MHz. Operated by ASTRON, the network includes stations in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the U.K., France, Poland and Ireland.
ASTRON-Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope
Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT)

ASTRON was founded in 1949, as the Foundation for Radio radiation from the Sun and Milky Way (SRZM). Its original charge was to develop and operate radio telescopes, the first being systems using surplus wartime radar dishes. The organisation has grown from twenty employees in the early 1960’s to about 180 staff members today.

SKA ASKAP Pathefinder Telescope

SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

SKA Meerkat Telescope

Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

SKA Murchison Wide Field Array
About SKA

The Square Kilometre Arraywill be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will 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. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, led by SKA Organisation. The SKA will conduct transformational science to improve our understanding of the Universe and the laws of fundamental physics, monitoring the sky in unprecedented detail and mapping it hundreds of times faster than any current facility.

Already supported by 10 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom – SKA Organisation has brought together some of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers and more than 100 companies and research institutions across 20 countries in the design and development of the telescope. Construction of the SKA is set to start in 2018, with early science observations in 2020.