These activities have also prepared the Spanish industry for engaging with the construction of the SKA telescopes. In addition, Spain is contributing to the development of the SKA Regional Centre (SRC) Network and is currently running an SRC prototype.
The coordination of the Spanish participation in the project and the SRC initiative is led by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA), which belongs to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC - Spanish National Research Council), an organisation dependent on the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
Brief history of Spain's involvement with the SKAO
Spanish researchers have shown interest in the idea of the SKA since it was conceived in the 1990s. As the idea of the observatory matured, Spanish researchers participated in the FP6-Infrastructures funded European project ‘Square Kilometre Array Design Study (SKADS), 2005-2009. In November 2011, the former Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation granted funding for a feasibility study of the technological Spanish participation in the SKA, through the VIA-SKA project. This project was led by the IAA-CSIC with participants from 10 Spanish institutions, thus firmly establishing the Spanish interest in the SKA project. From then on, the IAA-CSIC has been coordinating the Spanish scientific and technological participation in the SKA project, with yearly directed financial support from the Ministry of Science and Innovation since 2020.
From a scientific perspective, Spain has a long tradition of being involved in radio astronomy. Spanish radio astronomy facilities include the Yebes observatory, with two radio telescopes with 40 and 13.2-m dishes, and the Observatory IRAM Pico Veleta, with a 30-m dish. After showing their strong interest in the SKA project during the meeting “Science and Technological Opportunities in the SKA Era” of the Astronomy Infrastructures Network (RIA) in 2011, Spanish astronomers produced the Spanish SKA White Book (2015). The contributions are articulated in a total of 30 chapters, covering a wide range of SKA science drivers. Furthermore, the interest of the Spanish astronomical community is evident as they participate in 13 of the 14 SKA Science Working Groups.
All these activities led Spain to become the 11th Member of the SKA Organisation in June 2018. The Spanish council of ministers has already approved the accession to SKAO, a pivotal step to join as a full member.
Spanish SKA Regional Centre
Spain has been involved in the definition and design of the SKA Regional Centres (SRCs) from the very beginning, participating in both associated committees and related European projects. The Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) is leading the development of the Spanish Prototype of SKA Regional Centre (SPSRC), with support from the Severo Ochoa programme. The SPSRC was deployed in 2020, with the aim to host one of the centres that will give support to the SKA telescopes in the future.
The SRCs will be part of the end-to-end system that will bring forth the SKA Science, as they will receive the data from the SKAO and be responsible for maintaining its scientific archive. They will also constitute the place where SKA science will be carried out, as the scientific analysis will take place in the SRCs themselves. These centres will form a global network to provide a scientific platform with computational resources and collaborative tools that will allow the international SKAO community to benefit from the scientific potential of the SKA telescopes.
Science interest for Spain
The Spanish scientific community shows a strong interest in being part of the international teams that will carry out frontier science with the SKA telescopes. This was reflected with the publication of the Spanish SKA White Book in 2015, the result of a coordinated effort by 119 Spanish astronomers belonging to 25 Spanish and 15 foreign research centres. The contributions are articulated in a total of 30 chapters, covering a wide range of SKA science drivers. Furthermore, researchers from Spanish institutions participated in 14 of the 135 chapters of the international book "Advancing Astrophysics with the Square Kilometre Array" (2015), leading three of them.
The scientific interest of the Spanish community in the SKAO has led to the creation of the Spanish SKA Network, a network of academic institutions coordinated by the IAA-CSIC. The network has established necessary contacts between national groups that are interested at scientific, technological and industrial levels in the SKA project so they can get involved in the initiative.
Many research projects carried out by Spanish astronomers are tightly aligned with the science objectives of the SKAO. Consequently, there is Spanish participation in 13 of the 14 SKA Science Groups. Their research lines are also well represented among the SKAO prioritised goals (see Tables 1 and 2 of the SKA Science Priority Outcomes (SKA-SCI-PRI-002- Appendix A, 2015)).
Building the SKAO
Spanish technology groups and industry have shown strong interest in being involved in the construction of the SKA telescopes. Spain has been participating in pre-construction design consortia through 12 Spanish research centres and 12 companies (listed below) carrying out activities in 8 consortia (Dish, Signal and Data Transport, Central Signal Processor, Science Data Processor, Telescope Manager, Infrastructure SA and AU and Phased Array Feeds). The research centres and companies are: Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), Fundación Centro de Supercomputación Castilla y León (FCSCL), Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC), Instituto de Ciencias del Espacio (ICE-CSIC), Instituto de Física de Cantabria (IFCA,CSIC), Instituto Geográfico Nacional (IGN-OAN), Plataforma Solar de Almería (PSA-CIEMAT), U. de Cantabria (UC), U. de Granada (UGR), U. Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), U. Pública de Navarra (UPN), and U. Politécnica de Valencia (UPV), Anteral, Aora Solar Spain, Arraela, CSP Sunless, Das Photonics, GMV, GTD, iGrid-TD, ISDEFE, Seven Solutions, Torresol Energy and TTI Norte.
The Spanish government approved in 2023 an initial commitment of €41.4M for the first 10 years of the SKA Observatory. Spain and the SKAO Council have agreed on different construction areas the Spanish industry would contribute to, including synchronisation and distribution of signals, construction of the SKA-Mid dish antennas’ sub-reflectors and different elements for the Band 1 and Band 5 receivers.
Spanish community also contributes to the development of the SRC Network with members in different collaborations and working groups established by the SRC Steering Committee (BSC, IAA-CSIC, ICE-CSIC, IFCA-CSIC, IGN-OAN, RedIRIS, U. Valencia), and to the support of the SKAO Data Challenges, with two Spanish computing facilities providing resources (the SPSRC at IAA-CSIC and the Galicia Supercomputing Center, CESGA).
In 2023, a Spain-based business of multinational technology company Safran was awarded a highly technical contract to supply time distribution for the SKA telescopes.
Time distribution is a scheme where multiple sites share a precise reference time. Safran Trusted 4d is developing the final designs and providing the hardware to the SKAO.
Using White Rabbit (WR) technology first developed by CERN will allow the design to distribute timing information over long distances with sub-nanosecond accuracy – a perfect solution for the SKA telescopes, for which the achievement of the science cases requires synchronising signals reaching multiple antennas with a time accuracy better than five nanoseconds.
Pathfinders and Precursor telescopes
Yebes, part of the EVN
The 40-metre radio antenna at the Yebes Observatory, located in the province of Guadalajara northeast of Madrid, is a member of the SKA pathfinder the European VLBI Network (EVN). The continuously improving expertise gained via using Yebes and the wider EVN network, as well as other SKA pathfinder and precursor telescopes, prepares the Spanish astronomical community well for future use of the SKAO and keeps it up-to-date with the developments and capabilities to come.
Developing New Technologies
The following technologies have been developed and applied to SKA:
- Frequency and time distribution: the Universidad de Granada and Seven Solutions Company developed White Rabbit technology for time and frequency distribution aimed at: improving reliability (x4); the development of a prototype for 10G support for both data and synchronisation; and an improvement in firmware and equipment management and monitoring tools as well as interoperability aspects.
- Scientific reproducibility: the IAA-CSIC, the University of Cambridge and the Spanish company GMV contributed to develop Open Science technologies for the SKAO telescopes e.g. by studying how to collect Provenance from its Science Data processor.
- Band receivers: the OAN-IGN, the IFCA-CSIC, the Universidad de Cantabria and the Universidad Pública de Navarra led the developments of the cryogenic low noise amplifiers for frequencies between 2.8-15.3 GHz.
- Phased array feeds (PAF): the IAA-CSIC expertise in cryogenically cooled feeds (having been responsible for the NIR arm of the CARMENES spectrograph’s cooling system) has been applied to PAF design. Involved researchers aimed their developments at a cryogenic technology based on Pulsating Heat Pipes (PHPs), providing high thermal conductivity and significantly increased efficiency. The Instituto de Ciencias del Espacio (ICE-CSIC) developed different technologies for the electronic sky rotation, local monitoring and control for the digital back-end and receiver measurements to be applied to PAF technology.
- Scientific platforms: The Spanish astrophysic community is contributing to build the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) and the SRC Network platform. The SPSRC is developing and prototyping data distribution for the archives; JupyterHub services; testing of SKA precursor and pathfinder data processing pipelines; and studying data transfer quality between different international research centres, etc.
FPGA design: the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and ISDEFE worked together in the development of a digital resampler using FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) and designing its algorithms. Their expertise includes not only detailed design but also assembly, integration and validation services.
Impact Story: Technology Transfer in Spain (from Construction Proposal)
Critical industrial, financial and governmental applications increasingly require accurate, reliable, and traceable signals for time and synchronisation. SKA’s stringent requirements for signal timing and synchronisation have triggered technological developments from several partners that are already making their way to other fields beyond astronomy. For example, work developed by the University of Granada and Seven Solutions as part of their involvement in the SKA signal and data transport design consortium, based on White Rabbit Technology, has already found applications on the international market in sectors including aerospace, financial technology, smart grid, and more.
Impact Story: Spain supporting Open Science for the Un Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #5
The European Institution for Gender Equality gender statistics database and the Spanish Ministry study ''Female Scientist in Figures'' (2021) show a very low representation of females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research areas. On the other hand, UNESCO states that ‘Open Science is increasingly recognized as a critical accelerator for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals’.
Given their expertise on Open Science and their commitment to gender equality, some members of the Spanish SKA community currently participate in the Africa-Europe Science and Innovation Platform group ‘Women in Science and Technology’. Their main goal is to make policy recommendations about gender equality in STEM areas to policymakers. This activity has driven the group to send a signed letter of recommendations on gender policies to the European Commission, where the group agreed to include the ‘generalisation of the application of Open Science and the FAIR principles as a new metric to evaluate the promotion of gender equality, diversity and inclusion’ as a recommendation. In parallel, one of the main goals of the team in charge of the Spanish SRC Prototype (SPSRC) is to establish the Open Science concept in the infrastructure, including this recommendation. Open Science helps accelerate knowledge transfer to society, and it can be used as a tool for the objective evaluation of research careers, especially in the case of female scientists in environments where their contributions tend to be ignored or anonymised. Consequently, these policies are being promoted within the framework of the SKA Observatory and the SKA Regional Centre Network.
Benefits for Spain
Science and technology
Spanish researchers are involved in science projects that help drive the developments carried out by the SKAO. The Spanish community is currently working with SKA precursors and pathfinders and they benefit from the Spanish Prototype of SRC and the future SRC Network to do their research, even before the SKA telescopes are fully operational.
The strong commitment of Spanish technology groups and industry to the project during the pre-construction phase is allowing a return in the form of technological development in areas of interest for the Spanish industry e.g. signal and timing synchronisation, band receivers and the manufacture of antennas in composite materials. This acquired technological expertise will put Spain in a good position for contributing to the upcoming SKAO Development Programme.
Economic and social impacts
Digital Transformation is established as a priority and cross-cutting aspect in all social and economic spheres. The European Commission report “Shaping the Digital Transformation in Europe” (2020) states that key technologies in clusters such as ‘enabling technologies and infrastructure’ (including general-purpose technologies like AI, big data analytics or high-performance computing) have a high potential for social and economic impact.
SKA-related developments in Spain were essential to trigger Science-Industry linkages. Several research and technology groups and companies have participated in projects that have strengthened the position of the Spanish contribution to deliver the SKAO construction. In this framework, some collaborations working with SKAO technologies have resulted in a promising industrial concept, like the White Rabbit case study for finance matters, and have made it possible to participate and look for synergies with other big research infrastructures aimed at different scientific and technological areas.
The SPSRC initiative is fully engaged with Open Science, sustainability and reproducibility . Open Science is acknowledged by UNESCO to contribute to the fulfilment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to democratising information by fostering enhanced sharing of scientific knowledge among scientific communities (see talk ‘Open Science for sustainability and inclusiveness: the SKAO role model’ at UNGA 75).