UK to build SKAO telescope software

More than £15 million has been awarded to UK institutions to provide the software ‘brains’ for the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO) radio telescopes.

Artist’s impression of the SKA-Low telescope in Australia. The 131,072 dipole antennas will survey the radio sky in frequencies as low as 50 MHz. In the background are dishes from the ASKAP radio telescope, an SKA predecessor (credit: SKAO)

The SKAO will investigate the evolution of the early universe from its British HQ at Jodrell Bank, near Manchester.

It will oversee the provision and operation of two complementary arrays of 197 radio telescope dishes in South Africa and more than 130,000 low-frequency antennas in Western Australia.

The expansion of SKAO was co-funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through STFC. It recently received the green light from its member states to begin construction, which is expected to be completed by the end of the decade with telescopes expected to operate for more than 50 years.

“This award not only provides the foundation for new galaxy-level discoveries, but also helps to secure future contracts for UK industry, secure skilled jobs and develop a highly transferable technology in the UK, bringing more money back to the UK.” economy,” said science secretary George Freeman.


The telescopes are intended to study the sky much faster than existing radio telescopes. They need powerful computers to record and process the expected data rate of eight terabits per second in real time, and to support regional processing centers that manage more than 700 petabytes per year.

The instruments are supported by their software system, which tells the telescopes where and when to look, diagnoses any problems and translates the telescope signals into actionable data from which to make discoveries.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has awarded over £15 million to UK institutions to provide the UK’s national contribution to software development during the construction project.

These institutions include the universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford, as well as STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) Harwell Campus, Daresbury Laboratory in Liverpool and Astronomy Technology Center (UK ATC) in Edinburgh.

Conrad Graham, project manager of STFC, said the project will deliver significant benefits to the UK not only in direct economic return on investment, but also through innovation and technology spin-offs driven by project requirements.

“The award of new contracts provides opportunities for UK industry to engage with the project in all areas of: SK software design,” Graham said in a statement.

“As a result of the UK’s participation and the SKAO’s fair work return policy, the UK is leading the way with seven high-quality construction contracts, which will create significant new opportunities for UK industry.”

Abhishek Maheswari
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