In the previous edition of eNews I reported that the SKA Board had asked the SKA Office extend its ongoing effort to deliver a transformational SKA1 within the agreed cost-cap of €674M (2016 euros) by commissioning a specific ‘cost-control’ project with the aim of reporting to the Board in March 2017. In doing so we were asked to explore the possible use of pre-cursor technology and to minimise the impact on scientific capability and on the overall project schedule.
Since that time there have been two significant happenings. First, the long-planned ‘deep dive’ on the cost estimates delivered by the SKA1 design consortia took place in February. In response to the focus on cost reduction, and as part of the long-term cost reduction strategy of the project, I was very pleased to see that the updated SKA1 baseline design construction cost estimates were €89M below the November 2016 estimate and now stand at €829M. This number includes ~20% contingency. The reduction was due to a general improvement in the maturity of cost estimates, primarily through the involvement of industry. In addition, a large fraction of the reduction arose from the Science Data Processor consortium’s implementation of a phased capability model, which will deliver computing capability matched to the evolving capability of the SKA itself. I am hopeful that the baseline design cost estimate will continue to reduce.
The second aspect was the generation of a paper for the Board built on an enormous amount of work by SKA Office staff, consortia members and other across the project, with advice and guidance from the Science and Engineering Advisory Committee and the science representatives on the Board, the latter having been designated the Cost Update Sub-Committee (CUS). The paper outlined various scenarios aimed at delivering options for cost reduction; this built on the investigation of a large number of options. After the advice mentioned above, I recommended to the Board that we pursue the cost reduction work based on detailed investigations of options which a) minimised science impact, and b) explored the technical advantages of some specific technology choices (e.g. analogue vs digital beam-forming for SKA1-low; correlator architectures for SKA1-mid, and more).
The recommendation was accepted by the Board, which took comfort in the project’s ability to deliver a superb telescope within the cost cap. The Board also noted that several countries are considering joining the project in the future; such new partners would bring in welcome additional funds which would mean that some options would not need to be implemented.
The SKA Office is now forming so-called Resolution Teams, with external experts, to undertake the engineering evaluations of a small number of key technology options; and science assessment groups, also with external experts, to study the potential science impact of a small number of options. In addition to this we are organising a Science Town Hall in mid-May to inform the SKA science community of the process and to discuss the broader science impact of the options. Attendance at the Town Hall is being organised through the Chairs of the SKA Science Working Groups.
Then, in June, the annual all-hands SKA Engineering meeting will take place in Rotterdam, with discussion of the implication of the cost reduction exercise. I note that, at the time of writing, there are over 140 people already registered, which bodes well for an excellent turnout.
I thank all involved in what has been an intense period of work over the last 4 months in developing the cost reduction options. We have identified a route to constructing SKA1 at the cost-cap; I look forward to working closely with the community, and interacting with you at the various meetings coming up, as we plan the final steps of the design process.
I hope you enjoy this edition of the SKA eNews.
Professor Philip Diamond, SKA Organisation Director-General.
27th April 2017