SKA telescopeSKA Organisation has agreed to deploy the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope following majority support for dual-site implementation model.

It is claimed that the instrument is the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in two locations, being Australia and South Africa.

The joint Australia and New Zealand bid, as well as the South African-led bid, were left contending following the rejection of sites in Argentina and Chile in 2006.

SKA Organisation director general Michiel van Haarlem said the major step for the project allows the organisation to progress the design and prepare for the construction phase of the telescope.

"The SKA will transform our view of the Universe," he said. "With it we will see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos."

SKA said that the giant telescope would allow astronomers to catch a glimpse of the creation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies, examine the nature of gravity, and determine if there is life beyond Earth.

As part the agreement, the first phase of the SKA programme will integrate the ASKAP and MeerKAT precursor dishes to offer more science and further facilitate the project to exploit investments already made by both the bidding nations.

"The SKA will transform our view of the Universe. With it we will see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos."

The decision, which had identified Southern Africa as the preferred site, will see two of the three SKA dishes in phase one produced in Africa, with the third to be constructed in Australia.

All the further dishes and the mid frequency aperture arrays for SKA’s Phase II will be developed in South Africa, while the low frequency aperture array antennas for both the phases will be constructed in Australia and New Zealand.

The site selection process involved various factors, including radio frequency interference levels, the long-term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical factors of the site, long distance data network connectivity, as well as the operating and infrastructure expenses.

Construction of first phase of the SKA is expected to begin in 2016, with initial observations scheduled for 2019 and full operations planned for around 2024.

Image: Artistic impression of the SKA dishes. Photo: courtesy of SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions.