Press Release

£119M Investment to Open New Scientific Frontiers in Astronomy

By SpaceRef Editor
March 11, 2014
Filed under , ,

UK scientists, engineers and industries will be helping to design and build the world’s largest telescope. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will manage the UK role in this exciting project which will be at the forefront of astronomy over the coming decade.

Today STFC confirmed the release of £19M over the next 4 years to support the design of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, made up of a capital investment in Big Data of £11m, and a further £2M a year in the on-going core research program.

The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world, stretching technology to its limits.

In addition, speaking ahead of an event at Jodrell Bank Observatory today, the Science Minister David Willetts announced further funding of £100M for the SKA project as it moves towards construction from 2017. This support will build on the work the UK is already doing in leading the effort to design the computing and software for the project which will have a data processing capacity 1,000 times greater than currently available.

The Minister declared, “Investment in science is a crucial part of this government’s long-term economic plan. It’s about investing in our future, helping grow new industries and create more jobs — and that will mean more financial security for people across the country.”

The SKA radio telescope project will produce around twenty times the current global traffic of the internet in its internal telecommunications system. In fact, to play back a single day’s worth of SKA data on an MP3 player would take 2 million years. Thanks to the investment being made in the design phase, British scientists and industry partners are already helping to develop the central computing and data handling systems which will read the huge volume of new data, meaning this project could lead to faster smartphones and increased internet speeds across the UK in the future. The global market for data analysis is also expected to be worth £31 billion by 2016. With the additional resources being announced today by the Minister, Britain will be in a prime position to dominate the market and exploit the spin out technologies and knowledge that will arise from tackling the huge technical challenge of the SKA.

STFC Chief Executive Professor John Womersley said: “For the SKA, today’s announcement allows the UK astronomy research community the chance to address some of the fundamental questions in research on the origin and evolution of the universe. At the same time the technical innovations needed for the project will transform the capabilities of high-performance computing.”

Using a network of radio antennae around the globe SKA will advance radio astronomy in understanding how the universe evolved and challenging Einstein’s theory of relativity. With receivers across Africa and Australia, its dishes and antennae will provide a large scale 3D structure of the entire Universe.

Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, said: “This is a really exciting announcement for the SKA and a solid proof that the project is now really underway. With such a major investment secured there is no stopping it.”

The UK expertise is such that it has played key roles in developing the SKA project through to the detailed design phase currently underway and being supported through the grants being announced, won work packages in these vital data handling areas and most significantly, currently host the project office at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Manchester for this global, billion Euro project.

The £19M from STFC will consist of funding to the consortium of institutes involved in the global consortia designing the project. These include the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford, University College London and the University of Southampton, and support for STFC’s national laboratories at RAL, Daresbury and the UK Astronomy Technology Center. The support will keep the UK at the forefront of the design activities in the SKA project, in the design of computing and software systems, data transportation and processing, novel antenna designs and the approach to controlling such a huge network of telescope infrastructure.

The science done by SKA will help us understand some of the strangest questions in astronomy, and a whole generation of astronomers will be able to use this inspiring facility to transform the way we understand the universe.

Wendy Ellison
STFC Press Officer
+44(0)1925 603232, cell: +44(0)7912 177935

Corinne Mosese
STFC Press Officer
+44(0)1793 442870, cell: +44(0)7557 317200



nvolvement in SKA

* The University of Manchester is a member of five of the SKA consortia: Signal and Data Transport (SaDT), Science Data Processor (SDP), Central Signal Processor (CSP), Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA), and Mid Frequency Aperture Array (MFAA), one of which (SaDT) it leads. The Group is led by Dr. Keith Grainge.

* The University of Oxford is taking a major role in the development of the Low-Frequency Aperture Array and in the Central Signal Processing and Science Data Processor consortia. Oxford is also one of the key universities involved in preparation for the scientific exploitation of the SKA, with members on several of the SKA Science Working Groups. The Oxford SKA team is based in Department of Physics and the Oxford e-Research Center, led by Professors Mike Jones and David De Roure respectively.

* The University of Cambridge is leading the global Science Data Processor (SDP) consortium. The SDP work involves designing the hardware and software for the massive scale of data processing required for SKA Phase 1, building on decades of local expertise. The university’s High Performance Computing service will house a laboratory for testing computer implementations and to test scalability of architectures to the enormous proportions needed for SKA. Professor Paul Alexander leads the work. Cambridge also leads the work developing the low frequency antennas and system design for SKA1, for the Low Frequency Aperture Array consortium.

* Engineers at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are involved in the Central Signal Processor work package.

* Expertise and infrastructure access at STFC’s Scientific Computing Department and the Hartree Center at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory are playing a key role in the Science Data Processor activity.

* The UK Astronomy Technology Center (UKATC), part of STFC and the UK’s national center for astronomical technology, will lead one of the critical elements of the Telescope Manager activity. This builds on more than a decade of experience in developing software for observation preparation, telescope control and operation, most recently for the ALMA telescope array in Chile. Members of the Systems Engineering group at the UKATC are involved in the Central Signal Processor work package.

SKA website:

SKA images:

Amazing facts on the SKA:

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC, is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including in the UK the ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR, and is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd. It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

SpaceRef staff editor.