$387m for WA’s massive radio telescope

15/04/2021 - 16:12

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Plans to build the world’s largest radio astronomy observatory in Western Australia’s Murchison region received a boost overnight with $387 million from the federal government.

$387m for WA’s massive radio telescope
The Murchison Widefield Array was a precursor to the SKA. Photo: ICRAR

Plans to build the world’s largest radio astronomy observatory in Western Australia’s Murchison region received a boost overnight with $387 million from the federal government.

The €2 billion ($3 billion) Square Kilometre Array project would involve construction of two radio telescopes, one in South Africa and one in WA’s Murchison.

The Array will be able to see further into the universe than any telescope ever built.

That also means the SKA will be able to look back further into the history of the universe than any other telescope, because the distant radio signals it will collect took billions of years to reach earth.

Up to 16 countries will collaborate in the project, with Australia to be one of six founding members.

The hope is the founding members will finalise their 10 year funding plans by mid-year, when the international Square Kilometre Array Observatory body will make a final investment decision.

Shovels will be in the ground in WA by early next year, if all goes to plan.

The federal government’s new commitment of $387 million is Australia’s contribution in the 10-year funding strategy.

The cash will come from COVID-19 recovery funds targeted at science and advanced manufacturing.

About $64 million of the money will be allocated to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre to process the data from the SKA, with the first phase to produce about 3 terabytes of data per second.

Industry Minister Christian Porter said the allocation by the federal government was about 14 per cent of the international commitment.

Mr Porter said he had early involvement in the project as the state’s treasurer and felt the progress since then had been remarkable.

“It is estimated (through our analysis) that the cumulative economic impact that will come to Australia over the 30-year operational period of the SKA is about $1.8 billion,” Mr Porter said.

“So our money leverages $1.8 billion worth of economic growth into Australia. 

“And 95 per cent of that uplift comes into WA, $1.47 billion, and 59 per cent of it to the Mid West region.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said science and advanced manufacturing were important for the economic recovery post pandemic.

“Our investment in the construction and operations of the SKA will build our manufacturing capacity within the highly-skilled technology sector, and enable major scientific breakthroughs to be made right here in Western Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

“The SKA will help our scientists make more discoveries than we can imagine today. 

“Whether it’s better understanding the origin and future of our stars and galaxies to how gravity works across the universe.

“The SKA means more jobs for Australia and it puts us in the driver’s seat for scientific discoveries.”

The WA telescope will include more than 131,000 low frequency antennas in the Murchison region.

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