Square Kilometre Array Observatory launched: What is it? Everything you need to know!

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory is a new intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy. Its headquarters have been set up in the United Kingdom. 

Composite Image of SKAO
Composite Image of SKAO

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), a new intergovernmental organisation, has been launched. It is the world’s second intergovernmental organisation to be dedicated to radio astronomy.

The launch came after the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) Council held its maiden meeting. The council approved the establishment of the world’s largest radio telescope. 


The Square Kilometre Array Observatory Council aims to build and operate two radio telescope networks, which would be the largest and most complex ones ever conceived.

With these two networks, the intergovernmental organisation hopes to answer some of the fundamental questions regarding the universe. The two networks will be based in South Africa and Australia.

What is Square Kilometre Array Observatory?

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory is a new intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy. Its headquarters have been set up in the United Kingdom. 

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory has been designed to operate for more than five decades. 

The construction of the first phase of the SKA is estimated to be completed by 2027. 

The organisation hopes to get Early Science verification results by 2025.

How many countries are members of this organisation?

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory project marks the participation of 40 percent of the global population.

Around 16 countries are currently a part of the project either at a government or national-coordination level or as observers. 

The nations include India, China, Australia, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, South Africa, the UK, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, France, South Korea, Portugal, Switzerland and Spain.

In addition, there are eight African countries that are participating in coordinated action in order to support the expansion of the SKA project in the continent in the future.

India at SKAO

India is participating in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory at a national-coordination level, led by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. 

Overall, 19 institutions from across the country are a part of the Indian coordination team including IIT Indore, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Kanpur and IISc Bangalore among others.

SKAO radio telescopes

Two radio telescope networks would be set up under the Square Kilometre Array Observatory. There would not be a single telescope but an array of antennas and dishes of radio telescopes. 

The two networks will be established in South Africa and Australia.

The radio telescope network that would be set up in South Africa would consist of as many as 197 dishes having a diameter of 15 metres each, and these would be located in the Karoo region. 

Among these dishes, 64 already exist and are being operated by SARAO or the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

The telescope network in Australia would consist of a whopping 1,31,072 antennas, each being two metres tall and they would be located on the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

SKAO Objectives

The scientific objective of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory project is to study the gravitational waves in order to test the theories proposed by Albert Einstein, along with improving the human understanding of the Universe’s evolution. 

The SKAO also hopes to look for signs of life in outer space, while mapping hundreds of millions of galaxies.

The data collected through SKAO infrastructure would be transferred to regional centres around the world to benefit the global science community. 

The project would be a data incentive and the fastest supercomputers in the world would be needed to process the entire data in real-time, as the data produced would amount to about 600 petabytes (1 petabyte = 1024 terabytes) every year.

The data transferred by the antennas to the on-site signal processor would be 1 lakh times faster than the projected average speed of broadband in 2022.

Further, the amount of optical fibre required for SKA would be sufficient to wrap around the Earth twice and the volume of data stored by SKA would be sufficient to fill more than 10 lakh laptops having a storage capacity of 500GB.

The SKA's sensitivity would be such that it could detect an airport radar located on a planet that is tens of light years away from the Earth.

What are radio telescopes?

Radio telescopes can detect invisible gas and therefore, can reveal areas of space that may be obscured by cosmic dust. Astronomers have used radio telescopes in the past to detect radio waves emitted by different objects in the universe and explore it. 

The first radio signals were detected by physicist Karl Jansky in the 1930s.

The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico was the second-largest single-dish radio telescope in the world. The telescope was built in 1963 and it collapsed in December 2020. 

The telescope had a powerful radar and it was used by scientists to observe planets, asteroids and the ionosphere, making several discoveries over the decades such as finding the first exoplanets, prebiotic molecules in distant galaxies and the first-millisecond pulsar.


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