Telescopes unlock mysteries, and millions for the UK

The SKAO is already worth far more to the United Kingdom than the government’s initial investment in the project.

SKAO member states are already reaping the rewards of being part of the Observatory, through industrial contracts and return on investment.

In the United Kingdom, which hosts the SKAO's Global Headquarters, UK companies involved in designing the SKA telescopes have secured high-value contracts, supporting high-skilled jobs throughout the country.

Specialists drawn from across the globe to work at the SKAO’s headquarters in Cheshire have also significantly boosted the local economy, helping to drive investment across the region.

A Research Excellence Framework (REF) Impact Case Study by the University of Manchester in 2021 found: 

  • A total of €121.9m in construction contracts for the SKA telescopes has been awarded to UK organisations, already exceeding the UK’s capital contribution of €115m.

  • Total earned value to the project of two UK-based consortia involved in baseline design from the University of Manchester (signal and data transport) and University of Cambridge (science data processor) was €38m.

  • The UK has been selected as the Tier 1 lead for SKA Synchronisation, Timing and Clocks construction contracts, valued at €9.9m

  • Since the HQ building became operational in November 2018, its staff are estimated to have contributed around £6.2m (around €7.2m) annually to the local economy in Cheshire East.

  • HQ employee’s investment in the local property market is estimated at £6m (around €7m). A review by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council found that British business involved in telecoms, computing, data storage, electronics, programme and project management, and civil and mechanical engineering are among those benefiting.

The project also supports the UK’s booming space industry through the creation of new, highly specialised spin-off companies, which are finding new markets using novel technologies developed during the SKA’s design phase. 

The study also found businesses greatly valued the opportunity to enhance their staff’s skills through involvement with the SKAO, lending them a significant competitive advantage in international markets.

Examples include two STFC-funded software engineers from UK companies Observatory Sciences and ITDev, whose engineers were selected to work on prototype monitoring software for the SKA-Low telescope alongside specialists from UoM and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

As the SKA telescopes come online, they promise to unlock not just the mysteries of the Universe, but even greater benefits for the UK economy.

SKAO Headquarters at Jodrell Bank, UK
SKAO Global HQ at Jodrell Bank, UK. Credit: Juande Santander-Vela/SKAO