BAE Systems set to support multinational science project

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BAE Systems has signed a two-year statement of mutual interest to support the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a €1.5bn (£1.3bn) multinational science project.

The SKA will build the world’s largest-ever radio telescope network, which, among many other research projects, will enable astronomers to see the formation of the early universe, including the emergence of the first stars, galaxies and other structures.

BAE Systems’ UK engineers, based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and in Chelmsford, Essex, are lending their project management skills to the SKA Program Development Office (SPDO) at Manchester University.

In return, BAE Systems’ engineers will gain insights into complex research that is pioneering the 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 Karoo Array Telescope; in Australia, meanwhile, 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.

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.

Among 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.

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 such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider or the ITER 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 statement of mutual interest, will offer advice and support to the SKA development team.’

Prof Richard Schilizzi, SKA project director, said: ‘The SKA promises to be one of the top global science projects of the 21st century. 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 decision on where to host the SKA site will be made in 2012. This will be followed by a construction planning phase, with execution commencing in 2016.