What a year it’s been for the SKA Project. As we reach the end of the year and start looking ahead to the next, it is a good time to stop and look back at the main achievements of the past year. The SKA’s 2016 Advent calendar, which I encourage you to take a look at, has been doing this by highlighting a milestone every day, but let me just highlight a few of my own here and look to the next year.
Four rounds of negotiations, expertly led by the Italian Foreign Ministry, took place in the past 14 months in Rome to draft the SKA’s intergovernmental treaty and we are now very close to agreement, in no small part due to the excellent work from the negotiators from the Member Countries and from the SKAO Policy team. This document will form the core text of the Convention that establishes the SKA Observatory that will build and operate the world’s largest radio telescope. A major milestone of 2017 will be the signature of the treaty by Member Countries, which we expect to happen in the spring at a ceremony in Rome. This will formally start the process of creation of the intergovernmental body as the Convention is passed to national parliaments and legislatures for ratification.
In the summer, our Communications team ensured a central role for the SKA in the EuroScience Open Forum conference which took place in Manchester, this year’s European City of Science. The SKA was heavily featured, starting with a 25min slot in the opening ceremony hosted by Prof. Brian Cox with live video links to the SKA sites and the premiere of our new – and now award-winning – video trailer, as well as four panel sessions organised by us, in which experts discussed Big Data, Science, Diplomacy and Outreach. Our Indigenous astronomy art exhibition Shared Sky went on display at the nearby Manchester Central Library and attracted many delegates and members of the public, and our engineers and outreach staff interacted in person with festival goers at the highly successful Bluedot festival organised at Jodrell Bank.
In October, some 270 engineers working on the design of the SKA gathered in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for the fourth annual SKA Engineering Meeting, organised by our Engineering team and supported locally by SKA South Africa. This was a very productive meeting to iron out design issues, and the teams are now working hard to implement changes and progress the design to its final stage. As an early Christmas gift rewarding all their work, the SKA project passed its System Preliminary Design Review with flying colours. As we look to next year, two major milestones will be the final SKA Engineering Meeting to take place in Rotterdam on 12-16 June, as well as the Critical Design Reviews for each of the consortia due to start taking place in the second half of the year.
Finally, in November, some 200 astronomers gathered in Goa, India, for the Science for the SKA Generation meeting, organised by our Science team with the support from NCRA colleagues in Pune. This meeting was particularly aimed at early-career researchers to develop collaborations in the SKA era. They will be the first generation of users of the SKA, and therefore it is key to engage them already. I was extremely pleased to see the high attendance from young researchers and the diversity at the meeting and by the excellent poster sessions which highlighted some of the groundbreaking research being conducted by these bright young minds. Next year, the SKA will be present in a special session on synergies between future observatories at EWASS, the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science which will take place in Prague, Czech Republic on 26-30 June.
Last but not least, the new SKA global Headquarters at Jodrell Bank which is being graciously funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the University of Manchester and Cheshire East Council, received planning approval, thanks to the support from our Administration team and the University. Construction will shortly start and we expect the building to be ready in Q1 2018. I envisage this building to become an international hub for radio astronomy in the SKA era, and look forward to welcoming the community here from 2018 onwards.
As we close what has been a busy year for all the teams here at the SKA Headquarters but also around the world in the design consortia and the Science Working Groups, let me wish you, on behalf of the SKA Board of Directors and everyone at SKA Organisation, a wonderful festive season and a Happy New Year. We look forward to working with you in 2017 to bring the SKA even closer to construction.
Prof. Phil Diamond