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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
coming decade in the European ASTRONET decadal survey,6 and it has strong additional support from Australia and South Africa, the candidate sites for the SKA.
The SKA project encompasses the development of the next-generation radio capability to operate in the meter-to-centimeter wavelength range. SKA technology development was a key part of the RMS program endorsed by the AANM report; significant NSF funding ($12 million) became available only in 2007. As noted in the report of the AUI Committee on the Future of U.S. Radio Astronomy7 and as defined in the report of the Astro2010 Panel on Radio, Millimeter, and Sub-millimeter Astronomy from the Ground, the SKA concept is likely to be fulfilled by separate facilities delivering huge increases in collecting area via different technical approaches appropriate to three separate wavelength ranges, referred to as SKA-low (1- to 3-meter wavelength), SKA-mid (3- to 100-centimeter wavelength), and SKA-high (0.6- to 3.0-centimeter wavelength). Concept and technology development for the SKA is being undertaken by the international SKA consortium, which includes some 55 institutions in 19 countries. Many of the areas of technology development recommended in the RMS report are crucial steps along the road to achievement of the SKA.
The dramatic increase in scientific capability promised by SKA is directly reflected in the scope, complexity, and technical challenge of SKA concept development. At the present time, the detailed path to construction of any of the three SKA facilities is not clear. However, continued steady development of technology will lead to the next generation of radio facilities.
The HERA program, a project that was highly ranked by the RMS-PPP and included by the committee in its list of compelling cases for a competed mid-scale program at NSF, provides a development pathway for the SKA-low facility. Progress on development of the SKA-mid pathfinder instruments—the Allen Telescope Array in the United States, the MeerKAT in South Africa, and the ASKAP in Australia—and in new instruments and new observing modes on the existing facilities operated by NRAO and the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center will provide crucial insight into the optimal path toward a full SKA-mid. It is natural for the United States to build on its long, successful heritage with the EVLA, GBT, and VLBA in further developing the capabilities leading toward the SKA-high. It is primarily through technology development that the United States can remain an active partner in the concept development of the next-generation meter-to-centimeter wavelength radio facilities through the international SKA collaboration.
Associated Universities, Inc., Future Prospects for U.S. Radio, Millimeter, and SubmillimeterAstronomy: Report of the Committee on the Future of U.S. Radio Astronomy, revised February 2009, available at http://www.aui.edu/pr.php?id=20081003.