Jodrell Bank to host giant telescope HQ
The headquarters of a €1.5bn project to build the world's largest radio telescope will be based at Jodrell Bank observatory in the United Kingdom.
Three thousand 15 metre dish antennas will combine to form the Square Kilometre Array, a single giant telescope which is expected to help scientists answer fundamental questions about the universe such as understanding dark energy. It will have 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of current telescopes. The SKA itself will be built in southern Africa or Australia with construction starting in 2016. Phase one is expected to be complete by 2020.
Jodrell Bank, home to Manchester University's astronomy and astrophysics research activities, will from January 2012 be the base for the SKA project office – which was previously housed at the university. It is expected to create around 60 jobs. The director of the SKA, Richard Schilizzi, said: "The move to Jodrell Bank comes at a crucial time as the project grows from a concept to an international megascience project. The new location and facilities will support the significant expansion that is planned."
The UK's Minister for Universities and Science David Willets said the SKA was of "global significance". He added: "This is evidence of the high reputation of Britain's management of international science projects. It is great news for Britain and for Jodrell Bank and Manchester University in particular." The UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council is expected to invest provide £15m, and the project is part-funded by the European Union.
Nine countries including the UK, Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa have signed a letter of intent in Rome to establish a Founding Board and declare their commitment to the project. A total of 67 organisations in 20 countries are involved.
The chair of the Founding Board Professor John Womersley said: "Given the current economic environment, it is reassuring that so many partners have recognised the importance of supporting the SKA. Our partners have taken this step not only because of the inspirational nature of the discoveries that the SKA will make, but also because of the economic benefits that international megascience projects can bring to participating countries."
Jodrell Bank is also on the UK's shortlist of eleven candidates bidding to be designated World Heritage site status.