Jandangga 2023 SKA-Low update

Preparation works at the SKA-Low site are moving ahead, with a range of activities now underway.

Earth works and cultural preservation

In late May, the first infrastructure activities for construction of the SKA-Low telescope took place. The creation of the first “turkey’s nest” (water dam) near the Bordella well as a repository for water extracted under our water bore test conditions marks another important milestone. This work was performed by Wajarri Holdings Ltd, a Wajarri-owned company, under subcontract to Ventia.

a bobcat (digger) neatens up a side of a hole dug into the red earth

“Turkey’s nest” (water dam) infrastructure activities being performed at the SKA-Low site by Wajarri Holdings Ltd, a small Wajarri-owned company, under subcontract to Ventia. Credit: Ventia

Critical to all these works is the involvement and consent of the Wajarri. Our pre-construction activities were undertaken in conjunction with the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) Heritage Protection Committee, through the CSIRO Site Entity team who are responsible for managing the broader observatory site. Even though there was an extensive Wajarri walkover of all the land where the telescope will be deployed, as agreed in the ILUA and is common practice, Wajarri site monitors are required to be present during initial ground-disturbing activities to check for any missed heritage items.

two engineers in hi-vis crouch on steel mesh to have a close look at the base of an antenna.

AAVS3 deployment on site. Credit: SKAO

Wajarri site monitors were present during this phase, to ensure preservation of cultural heritage and identification and preservation of any cultural artefacts discovered.

The SKA-Low team has continued finalising the many important administrative activities required before work can commence on site. These range from the myriad of health, safety, and environment policies and procedures to specific permits for clearing, water access, borrow pits (gravel quarries) and other activities.

Building businesses

In May, Ventia – who have been contracted to deliver infrastructure for the SKA-Low telescope – held a one-day workshop in Geraldton to promote a range of business and employment opportunities in Western Australia as part of their Indigenous and local participation plan. This presented an excellent opportunity for Ventia to connect and show the community some of its broader work programs in Western Australia with representation from four of its divisions, establishing a number of good contacts. While delivering the SKA-Low telescope is a main focus, part of the legacy will be in helping small Wajarri and regional enterprises make the transition to broader commercial engagements.

Building array stations

AAVS 3.0 is the final technology demonstrator before SKA-Low telescope stations begin to be assembled and deployed in early 2024. It is a whole station based partially on prototype equipment that we are using to test and validate the design.

With a team of between five and 10 staff from the Geraldton Engineering Operations Centre out on site, we assembled, quality checked, deployed, tested and verified 256 antennas in 10 days. This was the first time that SKAO staff had led deployment of a verification system, working in collaboration with Curtin University, INAF and contractors. One of the primary objectives is to ensure continuity for the product development teams and to reduce risk for the delivery of the construction phase, increasing the probability that performance, cost, and schedule are maintained. It is also training SKAO staff in Australia in building and installing the antennas, working in remote locations, managing waste and scaling and optimising work processes.

More to come

The coming months promise to be very busy as we gear up with further early construction activities, leading to establishment of the construction camp and early works on the various infrastructure contracts. I want to particularly thank CSIRO’s Site Entity team for their huge levels of help in getting us underway in this early phase, as we have been establishing all the right documents, procedures and communications paths essential to the success of such a complex undertaking.

High level view of landscape, dotted with small trees on red earth. A silver circle is half covered in metal antennas

AAVS3 deployment on site. Credit: SKAO

Ant Schinckel, SKA-Low Site Construction Director