Australia sets its sights on universe

As part of a consortium of countries, which include the United States, Europe and China, Australia is grappling for the opportunity to be the host of the AU$1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project.

SYDNEY (ZDNet Australia)--Vying for prime position in outer space, Australian scientists hope to secure one of the largest radio telescope projects to observe the universe.

As part of a consortium of countries, which include the United States, Europe and China, Australia is grappling for the opportunity to be the host of the AU$1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project.

"The SKA is going to be an incredibly sensitive telescope therefore, it has to be sited in a ‘radio-quiet’ location," Dr Michelle Storey from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said.

Dr Geoff Brownlie of BAE Systems says the desert regions of Western and South Australia are a distinct advantage as there is no interference of any kind, "which makes the instrument very powerful to look at faint signals from the universe."

Australian research institutions working on the SKA project include the CSIRO, the University of Sydney and the Australian National University.

The proposed design is an array of tens of thousands of large spherical radio antennas which, according to Storey, look like a "flock of eggs on legs". The antennas will work with other communications technologies, which will have access to infrastructure and telecommunications links.

According to Brownlie, the telescope will be able to use radio waves to pick up images of different phenomenon in the galaxies, such as black holes.

The SKA project will contribute to the design of the telescope and is being touted as a valuable tool which will benefit the country economically.

"Local industry and research institutions have the necessary technical skills in all SKA technologies, including antennas, microwave receivers, signal processing, communications, synthetic beam forming and the analysis of complex data," Brownlie said.

An international committee will choose the telescope site in 2005, to begin construction in 2007. The telescope is expected to be fully operational by 2010.