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SKA committee defers final decision

Australia/NZ still in running for super-scope

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The Australia-New Zealand bid to host the Euro1.5 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA)uber satellite project is not lost. Despite reports earlier in the month that recommendations had been tipping rival bidder South Africa in the box seat, the SKA Organisation said it will delay its decision to further discuss the opportunities.

D-day had been set for April 3, but SKA said "is not likely that this meeting will make a final decision on the site; rather it will be the start of a process of discussion and negotiation between the members." The panel of voting countries has been also been expanded to include Canada in addition to China, the UK, Netherlands and Italy.

The project involves around 3000 radio telescopes and has the potential to create a micro industry around big data for the winning host company and around 500 high tech jobs.

The Board will next meet in Amsterdam on 4 April 2012 for one of its quarterly meetings to oversee the activities of the SKA Organisation. Construction on the project is slated to start as early as 2016. Once completed, the array will comprise several thousand antennas up to 5,000 kms apart operating as a single instrument. The SKA has been designed to have 10,000 times the potential of existing telescopes.

WA Premier Colin Barnett told press recently that the bid was far from over: ”There are still a number of processes to go through and I still believe very firmly that Australia is the best location for this extraordinary piece of science. It would be disappointing (if we did not succeed) and we still believe that Australia and particularly the WA site is the best site.”

The WA State Government has committed AUD$70 million to the project while at a federal level $400 million has been devoted to an adjunct project, the Australian SKA Pathfinder, which will result in 36 radio telescope dishes being located in the Mid-West region.

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