06/02/2007 - 22:00

Telescope project worth $2bn

06/02/2007 - 22:00

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Australia’s prospects of hosting the world’s biggest telescope have hit a significant hurdle after the co-ordinating committee was forced to consider an alternative location.

Telescope project worth $2bn

Australia’s prospects of hosting the world’s biggest telescope have hit a significant hurdle after the co-ordinating committee was forced to consider an alternative location.

Australia has been developing a bid for the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project for more than five years and was selected last September as one of two countries on the short list.

The bid has always been focused on a location at Mileura station, 350 kilometres north-east of Geraldton.

The international steering committee that selected Australia as a short-listed bidder said a key requirement of the core site was that it have a very low level of man-made radio signals, because interference would mask the faint cosmic radio waves the telescope is designed to detect.

An alternative location at Boolardy station, 75km west of Mileura, is currently being assessed to ensure the radio telescope is not adversely affected by new mining projects.

The SKA project involves development of a giant next-generation radio telescope by scientists in 17 countries.

The SKA will be a set of thousands of antennas, not a single giant instrument, spread over 3,000km, but with half of the antennas located in a central region five kilometres across.

The telescope will be 50 times more sensitive than the most powerful radio telescopes currently in use.

Development of the SKA project has taken even longer than some big mining projects. Conceptual work started in the early 1990s and prototype designs commenced in 1997.

A final decision on which site will host the SKA is due by the end of the decade.

Phased construction of the SKA will commence in 2011, although it’s expected the radio telescope won’t be fully complete until the year 2020.

The state government made its first funding commitment for the project in 2002, and in March last year announced the establishment of a radio astronomy park on Mileura station.

The federal government has also backed the project, providing $19 million for the Mileura International Radio Array, which would be a demonstrator for the SKA project.

WA’s status as a centre for astronomy received another boost last July when the National Science Foundation of the US agreed to invest $6 million in research at the radio astronomy park.

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