Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced what could be revealed as new funding for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) ahead of the May federal budget.
Meanwhile, outgoing Staff Association Secretary Sam Popovski recently visited CSIRO’s astronomy facilities at Murchison and New Norcia and reports positive news about the future of both facilities.
Prime Minister Morrison used a visit to Western Australia last month to announce $64.4 million to establish a specialist super-computing centre, to be based in Perth, to process the data generated by the SKA.
The Government calculates its decade-long contribution to the construction and operation of the SKA to the value of $387 million, including the funding for the super-computing centre, but how much of this represents new spending may only be revealed with the release of the budget papers.
“This $387 million investment highlights that science and advanced manufacturing are at the heart of my government’s National Economic Recovery Plan from the COVID recession,” Prime Minister Morrison said.
Earlier in February while on leave in Western Australia, Mr Popovski took the opportunity to visit Staff Association members in Murchison and New Norica.
The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) has developed significantly since its inception a decade ago, with instrumentation including ASKAP, the Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES) , the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).
ASKAP employs over a dozen staff in CSIRO, who commute to the MRO from the coastal town of Geraldton. Staff maintain all functions of the facility, from antenna maintenance and engineering through to data networks and health and safety on site.
Boolardy Station and the MRO are considered very remote even by Australian standards, which enables deep and precise astronomy to be undertaken at what has been termed the world’s ‘quietest’ radio astronomy site. Mr Popovskis said that being at the MRO provides a true sense of the scale and remoteness of the facility.
“It’s phenomenal what our members do on site. They are dedicated to maintaining world class standards in everything, from making specialised equipment, delivering engineering solutions and looking out for each other in what is an unforgiving landscape,” Mr Popovski said.
Over several years, the Staff Association has actively represented staff at Geraldton and the MRO to improve a range of working conditions, including the accommodation facilities at Boolardy, but there is more work to do.
“As the MRO expands with the full implementation of SKA, there will be substantial scientific and logistical challenges in accommodating greater numbers of staff and complexity of work,” Mr Popovski said.
The SKA global project will involve installing hundreds of new antennas, cables, networks and systems in addition to what is already at the MRO.
“Our delegate James Hannah and members at Geraldton and the MRO are looking forward to the ongoing expansion and success of ASKAP and SKA,” Mr Popovski said.
“The scientific discoveries being made through MRO have already changed astronomy and what we know about our universe forever. The Staff Association will continue to work with CSIRO management to ensure that staff are recognised for the outstanding work they do.”
Located 130 kilometres north-east of Perth near the historic town of New Norcia is a 35-metre antenna and associated infrastructure that CSIRO manages on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). The New Norcia ground station provides operational support for ESA’s spacecraft missions in our solar system.
Since 2019, CSIRO has managed the station, providing support to multiple spacecraft missions and employing about half a dozen staff, all CSIRO Staff Association members. Recently ESA announced it will be constructing an additional large antenna as part of the New Norcia ground station, expected to become operational by the year 2024.
Mr Popovski visited the site to meet with members, Staff Association delegate John Spade and OIC Suzy Jackson.
“It was fantastic to be back at New Norcia and acknowledge the work of members, which is so highly regarded by ESA,” Mr Popovski said.
The main building on site is also set for a major upgrade to enable it to be ready for future operational needs.
“As the physical infrastructure at the ground station grows, CSIRO will need to pay close attention to staffing requirements and workloads to continue to deliver for ESA and maintain standards,” Mr Popovski said.
“CSIRO’s management of the ground station has been a huge success so far and the Staff Association looks forward to representing staff in coming years as the site expands.”
Sam Popovski would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which the MRO and the ground station are located and pay his respects to elders, past and present.
The Staff Association recognises the support of the CASS business unit in helping to facilitate the site visits to Boolardy/Murchison, Geraldton and New Norcia.