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Before the summer, the Dutch parliament ratified the convention establishing the Square Kilometre Array observatory and this ratification has now been confirmed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the depository of the convention. The Netherlands is the first country to officially complete the process. This is an important step in the establishment of the new intergovernmental organization that will build and operate the telescope. The organization will have its headquarters near Manchester in the United Kingdom.
On 12 March this year, the Netherlands signed the SKA Observatory Convention, as did the three host countries, Australia, South Africa and the UK, as well as China, Italy and Portugal. Once at least five of them, including the hosts, have completed ratification, the convention will enter into force, enabling establishment of the intergovernmental organization. Following the Netherlands, the other countries are currently undergoing similar ratification processes. Full ratification is expected next year and construction is expected to start in approximately 18 months.
The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world (link in Dutch). In South Africa, a first set of around 200 large dishes will be deployed in the Karoo region, while in Western Australia the telescope will initially consist of more than 130,000 antennas spread over 512 antenna fields. The design of these antennas is based on the Low Frequency Array (Lofar) telescope from Astron, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. With this large number of antennas, the SKA generates one petabit of data per second.
A network of regional SKA centers will process and archive the data, enabling astronomers to access it in order to make scientific discoveries. At Astron in Dwingeloo, a science data center will be set up, offering employment to highly educated researchers, developers and supporting service providers. By joining forces and collaborating with other data-intensive sectors, a public-private, multidisciplinary cluster is created that focuses on data science. The Netherlands is investing 30 million euros (link in Dutch) in the project.