China to join construction of world’s largest telescope

Photo shows the SKA site in South Africa. (Photo from the official website of SKA China)

Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the largest radio telescope ever in human history, is expected to be constructed since July this year, said Wu Xiangping, member of the National Committee of the Chinese’s People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on March 4.

Wu, also an Academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and chief scientist of China’s SKA team, said it is estimated that 10 percent of the SKA will be completed and put into use for observation by 2028.

As a major international science project, the SKA aims to build the world largest and most sensitive telescope, whose receiving area will hit one square kilometer.

China’s Five-Hundred Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is the world’s largest single-aperture telescope, while the SKA will eventually consist of thousands of dishes.

The FAST is located in the Northern Hemisphere, while the SKA will be built in the other half of the globe. The two of them will complement each other, and jointly contribute to astronomical

The SKA is another international project joined by China after the country participated in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project.

At the 24th International Union of Radio Science General Assembly held in Tokyo, astronomers from 10 countries including China jointly proposed to build the next generation of large radio telescope. In 2011, the SKA Organization was officially established in Rome, Italy, with China as one of the nine founding members.

Researcher Qin Bo with the National Astronomical Observatories, CAS noted that different from the ITER, the SKA project is the first international science project that China has joined from the very beginning and acted as a major participator through the whole process, including the making of basic rules and regulations, as well as project construction and operation.

In 2012, preparations of the SKA project officially started, and a dual-site solution was unanimously approved. The project will be constructed in Australia and South Africa, while its headquarters is located in the UK. The high-frequency array will be built in South Africa, as well as eight partner countries in southern Africa, and the low-frequency array in Western Australia.

The SKA Organization issued 11 work packages to the globe. The antenna package is the largest among them and of the highest construction cost. After rounds of heated debate, China’s antenna solution became the only candidate solution, and China was also the chair of the SKA antenna package alliance. In February 2018, the 54th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation developed the first prototype SKA antenna SKA-P, whose performance is leading the world in multiple areas.

The SKA demonstrates the latest and highest achievements of modern science and technology, and will promote the rapid development of a series of industries, including manufacturing, communication, computing and energy, said Qin. Relevant Chinese industries have acquired certain technical reserve and experience, and are able to join the technical development of the project and apply relevant results in other major sci-tech areas.

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