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Representatives of leading Italian and Australian science institutions met in Perth yesterday to formally enter into a partnership to take the next steps toward the world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Representatives from Curtin University, ICRAR and INAF at the signing ceremony.

Representatives from Curtin University, ICRAR and INAF at the signing ceremony.

The Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) will work together, combining complementary technologies and skills from both organisations, to advance SKA designs prior to full construction of the giant international telescope in around 2020.

The SKA will be established in Western Australia in the form of 130,000 individual radio antennas spread over thousands of square kilometres in the Murchison, 800km north of Perth.  A second facility will be established in South Africa and the SKA Headquarters will be located in Manchester, UK.  Phase 1 of the SKA will have a construction cost of around $1.1 billion.

At the signing ceremony at Curtin University, INAF Scientific Director, Dr Filippo Zerbi, said INAF is highly committed to developing both the engineering and astrophysics required to explore the Universe with the SKA over the coming decades.

“INAF has developed antennas and electronics for the SKA and we are very pleased to be partnering with our Australian colleagues in this quest,” Dr Zerbi said.

Curtin University John Curtin Distinguished Professor Steven Tingay said the teams from INAF and ICRAR-Curtin University have worked together closely over the last five years, including on the ground in the heat of the remote Murchison region.

“We have forged a very special relationship and I look forward to strengthening that relationship via this agreement,” Professor Tingay said.

The work that has involved INAF and ICRAR-Curtin University over the last five years now culminates in a Critical Design Review (CDR) to be held in December.

After CDR, ICRAR-Curtin University and INAF will finalise and verify the designs and lead the testing of those designs, over the course of 2019. This collaboration will be supported by $1m in funding from INAF and matching funding from Curtin University, with assistance from the Australian Government.

As well as INAF and ICRAR-Curtin University, the work will rely on industry partners in Western Australia, from around Geraldton and Perth, and industry partners in Italy.  The project will provide opportunities for Western Australian and Italian industries to participate, and work together, in the next phase of SKA development, toward major construction activities.

The project will be coordinated by the SKA Organisation (SKAO) Headquarters, based in Manchester and will potentially also involve other technical teams from Australia (including the CSIRO), the UK, the Netherlands, and China. The work will exist within a large body of work coordinated by the SKAO that will involve all 12 SKA Member countries in the lead-up to construction.