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Our Engineers Support Global Project to Unlock Secrets of the Universe

Artist's impression of the SKA dishes
BAE Systems has signed a two-year Statement of Mutual Interest (SoMI) to support the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - the world's largest ever radio telescope network.

The SKA is a €1.5 billion multinational science project which amongst many other research projects, will collect data released by gas clouds after the Big Bang, giving vital clues as to how the universe was formed and whether there might be life on other planets.

BAE Systems’ UK engineers based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and Chelmsford, Essex are lending their project management skills to the SKA Program Development Office, (SPDO) currently based at the University of Manchester, to help plan the building of the SKA. In return BAE Systems’ engineers will gain insights into complex research that is pioneering new radio signal processing techniques required to handle data rates that far exceed anything seen to date.

At the same time, BAE Systems’ engineers in South Africa and Australia are supporting their respective countries’ bids to host the telescope. In South Africa, BAE Systems has supplied antennas to the MeerKAT project, and in Australia, BAE Systems is an active member of the Australasian SKA Industry Consortium.

The SKA, which is expected to be fully operational by 2024, will seek to answer fundamental questions in physics and astrophysics. It will consist of thousands of radio telescope dishes and other antennas linked together across an area the size of a continent. The signals from all the radio wave receptors will be combined to create a giant virtual radio telescope larger than any other radio observatory built to date and 50 times more sensitive.

Amongst its functions, the SKA will be able to collect radio waves carrying signals from gas clouds emitted before the formation of the first stars – enabling it to look back billions of years to reveal how the universe formed immediately after the Big Bang. It will investigate the possibility of life on far off planets, and will even test Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Les Gregory, BAE Systems Mission Systems’ Radar Director in the UK, said: “The Square Kilometre Array is international ‘megascience’ at its most innovative, and will be similar in scale and ambition to projects like CERN’s (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) Large Hadron Collider or the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) nuclear fusion programme. With that ambition comes engineering and project management complexity. BAE Systems has direct experience of large, multinational engineering projects and under the terms of the SoMI, will offer advice and support to the SKA development team to ensure the project is on time and delivers its research goals.”

SKA Project Director, Professor Richard Schilizzi said: “The SKA promises to be one of the top global science projects of the 21st century. Using innovative receptor technologies and one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the SKA will probe the origins of the universe. However the spin off technologies will have applications closer to home such as mega-data management, very low-power Radio Frequency devices, and ‘system of systems’ control software”.

A team of international astronomers will decide the host site for the SKA next year. This will be followed by a construction planning phase, with execution commencing in 2016. In addition to producing groundbreaking science research on the foundations of the universe, the SKA will drive innovation in several technological fields, including information and communication technologies (ICT), wireless communication, sensor technology, and renewable energy.

Issued by:
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