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Australian SKA developments

Late yesterday the Australian Federal government announced a $160.5 million investment plan in astronomy and space science. It's budget time here in Australia, so there is a lot of discussion about large funding plans and national debt. In a $22 billion Nation Building Infrastructure plan, funding has been promised for roads, metro rail, ports, the Clean Energy Initiative, universities, research, hospitals and broadband. In total, more than $900 million has been set aside for funding science infrastructure around the country.

Announced by the Innovation Minister, Kim Carr, this funding is part of the Federal Government's Super Science Initiative and will fund a diverse range of projects such as upgrading the Australian National University's Climate High Performing Computing facilities, replacing CSIRO's Marine National Facility, and building a new Australian National Centre of SKA Science right here in Perth.

Western Australia is one of two potential sites for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the next generation radio telescope under development by a large international collaborations of astronomers, engineers and industry partners. The telescope is being designed to help answer some of the fundamental "big" questions about our Universe and its evolution and will require immensely powerful computing facilities to process the enormous amount of data which the telescope will collect. The decision on whether the SKA will be located either in WA or South Africa is likely to be made sometime in 2011/12, but Australia is already building the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope at the heart of the candidate site in the Murchison. ASKAP will be a demonstrator telescope testing some of the new technologies which the SKA will require and will amass more information in the first six hours of operation than has been recorded by all the world's radio telescopes to date.

While this is very exciting for Australian astronomy, and Perth in particular, it is not the only bit of good astronomy-specific news to come out of the budget. Also in the pipeline are:

  • $20.9 million for Australia to take sole responsibility for the Anglo-Australian Observatory, home of the world's top ranked four-metre optical telescope;

  • $10.0 million to construct state-of-the-art instruments and data acquisition infrastructure to store, process and analyse information captured from different next-generation telescopes;

  • $40.0 million for a new Australian Space Research Program to support space research, innovation and skills development in areas of national significance; and

  • $8.6 million to establish a Space Policy Unit, which will provide whole-of-Government advice on space and industry development.
All in all, a pretty positive day for Australian astronomy, and how this all develops over the next few months will certainly be interesting to watch.

Posted by Megan on Wednesday 13th May 2009 (03:30 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

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