Construction begins on headquarters for the world’s largest radio telescope

by Amy Hatton / 5/3/2017 4:02:23 PM

A special ceremony marking the beginning of construction of the Square Kilometre Array Global Headquarters (SKA GHQ) took place today, Friday 28 April to mark the official start of building work on the expansion of the central office for the world’s largest radio telescope.

The ground-breaking event, held on the SKA premises at The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank site was attended by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Professor Colin Bailey; the Director-General of the SKA Organisation, Professor Philip Diamond; and representatives from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and Cheshire East Council.

Director General of the SKA Organisation, Professor Philip Diamond said: “On behalf of the SKA Board of Directors and our member countries, I was delighted to welcome our distinguished guests to this ground-breaking ceremony as their backing has been essential in securing this investment. In the next ten years, the SKA Global Headquarters will become a real nexus for radio-astronomy internationally, and is a fantastic continuation of the proud history of radio-astronomy at Jodrell Bank.”

The 4,200m2 SKA GHQ will eventually be home to more than 135 staff from more than 13 countries, tasked with managing the construction and operations of the Square Kilometre Array telescopes, located in Southern Africa and Western Australia.

The finished telescopes will be several times more sensitive and hundreds of times faster at mapping the sky than today’s best radio astronomy facilities.

Equipped with a 10Gbit/s connection to the national research network, the building will include some 18 meeting rooms equipped with state-of-the-art videoconferencing to work with teams spread over 20 time zones, as well as a Council Chamber which can be converted into a 159-seat auditorium for scientific conferences and public talks.

With a 40% target reduction in water consumption, 25% of construction materials from recycled or reused content, electric vehicle charging points as well as dark-sky compliant lighting and a highly efficient heat pump system, the building is also aiming to achieve a BREEAM target of ‘Very Good’.*

Cheshire East Council Deputy Leader, Cllr David Brown, said: “To have this amazing, international, ground-breaking research centre headquartered here in Cheshire East is a historic moment and we congratulate the University and the team at Jodrell Bank for proposing to host this prestigious project.”

“Hosting the SKA global headquarters is a big coup for Cheshire East, and will no doubt benefit this area hugely in terms of jobs, kudos and economic growth. It falls squarely within the Cheshire Science Corridor and Northern Powerhouse concepts, and this is why we are deeply committed to it.”

Home to what will be the only inter-governmental organisation in the North West, the SKA GHQ will contribute to the local economy through goods & services expenditure and staff household spend. It will also help put Cheshire on the international map by receiving high-level dignitaries from the SKA’s member countries, as well as thousands of scientists and engineers from around the globe working on the project.

The bid to make Jodrell Bank the headquarters of the SKA was backed by the UK Government via the Science and Technology Facilities Council, The University of Manchester and Cheshire East Council, as well as Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The £16.5 million new SKA GHQ due to open in June 2018 is funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (£9.8M) via the STFC, The University of Manchester (£5.7M) and Cheshire East Council (£1M).

The new building will be on the Jodrell Bank site, currently operating the iconic Lovell Telescope and the UK’s e-MERLIN telescope array which is part of the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester. The Observatory was established in 1945 by Sir Bernard Lovell and has since played an important role in a number of fields, including the study of meteors, quasars, pulsars, masers and gravitational lenses, and was heavily involved with the tracking of space probes at the start of the Space Age.

As such, Jodrell Bank has been a leader in radio astronomy for over 70 years and is now on the UK shortlist for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Its accompanying Discovery Centre currently attracts around 165,000 visitors each year, including 22,000 school pupils on educational visits.

Professor Colin Bailey, Deputy President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester said: “The University of Manchester is incredibly proud to have the SKA headquarters on the Jodrell Bank site.  It complements the world-class research already taking place at Jodrell Bank and, more than 70 years after Sir Bernard Lovell founded the Observatory, this ground-breaking ceremony shows that the site is still at the forefront of expanding our understanding of the Universe.”

Follow progress on the SKA Global Headquarters: http://skatelescope.org/skahq/