Scientists and engineers from around the world recently met in Australia to begin the preparatory phase for the biggest project ever undertaken in radio astronomy. The international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be 50 times more sensitive than any existing facility and will probe some of the biggest questions in the Universe.

The SKA was identified by the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) in its 2006 Roadmap for research infrastructures of pan-European relevance and the corresponding Preparatory Phase project, PrepSKA, will now pave the way for the SKA with a three-year programme. Its aim is to draw together international efforts from around the world to finalise a detailed, costed technical design, and to develop the governance and legal framework for the project. PrepSKA will also conduct additional studies of the short-listed sites being considered for the SKA, in Australia and South Africa.

PrepSKA is a €22 M programme, with 5.5 M from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and further funding provided by the participating countries. It began in April 2008 and runs until 2011. The PrepSKA collaboration initially involves 24 organisations from 12 countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.