Canada joins SKA Observatory as tenth Member

on 03 June 2024
Canada has joined the SKA Observatory as a Member, becoming the tenth country to join the intergovernmental organisation.

The Honourable François-Phillipe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced a $269m (approximately €182m) investment over eight years. The National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre will oversee this investment and work with Canadian industrial partners to deliver key observatory systems. The NRC will represent Canada in the SKAO Council.

“Canada has been a long-standing leader in astronomy and the exploration of the universe, and Canada’s membership in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory will give Canadian researchers access to the world’s most powerful radio-telescope. Beyond astronomical discovery, SKAO-related technologies have the potential to enhance the everyday life of Canadians, through better networks, and in other areas like more accurate and advanced driver assistance systems in cars," Minister Champagne said.

Flags flying outside SKAO Global HQ. The focus is on the Canadian flag, with the building and a small lake behind.
The Canadian flag flying at SKAO Global Headquarters. Credit: SKAO
François-Philippe Champagne

Beyond astronomical discovery, SKAO-related technologies have the potential to enhance the everyday life of Canadians.

Author of quote:The Honourable François-Philippe ChampagneMinister of Innovation, Science and Industry

It was also announced that Canada’s MDA Space has been awarded the SKAO construction contract to develop and integrate the correlator and beamformer for the SKA-Mid telescope in South Africa, which acts as the “brain” of the array, combining the signals received by its 197 antennas.

The correlator and beamformer is an extremely complex component that’s central to the telescope’s key functionalities. SKA-Mid’s 197 dishes create a large number of different ‘baselines’ between individual dishes in the array. The correlator has to align and process the signals from each pair of dishes to allow the creation of images and other science products from the telescope. The system built by the NRC and MDA Space uses state-of-the-art field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) which carry out mathematical calculations extremely quickly, but require highly specialised programming.

The announcements follow more than two decades of Canadian contributions to the SKA project dating back to its inception. Since then, the SKAO has consistently ranked as a top priority by the Canadian astronomical community, and was highlighted as such in the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Long Range Plan, a decadal review most recently updated in 2020.

“Canada has been a valued partner within the SKA project for over 20 years, and I am delighted to welcome them as our newest Member, extending the Observatory’s membership into North America,” said SKAO Director-General Prof. Phil Diamond.

“Just over a year ago at the SKA-ngVLA meeting in Vancouver, I saw first hand the enthusiasm among astronomers in Canada, particularly early career researchers who will be using the SKA telescopes. Now we can look forward to further deepening the ties between our colleagues there and the broader SKAO community as we progress through construction and into operations in the coming years.”

During the pre-construction phase, Canada contributed to four of the SKA design consortia. NRC led the Central Signal Processor consortium and, working with industry partner MDA Space, designed the correlator and beamformer which forms the basis of the contract now being announced. Canadian institutions made further contributions to the Science Data Processor, Dish and Telescope Manager consortia.

Astronomers at Canadian institutions are involved in 12 of the 14 SKAO Science Working Groups, including currently co-chairing the Magnetism group, highlighting the community’s interest in a broad range of SKAO science areas. Canada also hosts the innovative SKA pathfinder telescope CHIME, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, which alongside its core mission has proved to be a prolific hunter of fast radio bursts, a burgeoning area in astronomy research which the SKA telescopes will build upon. The CHIME team has been recognised for its role in training students and early career researchers, and giving opportunities to underrepresented groups. 

Canada is also heavily involved with the SKA Regional Centre Network (SRCNet), an international effort to design, develop and operate a distributed network of high-performance computing centres to support the science exploitation of the SKA data. Canada’s SRC will be established through investment and expansion of existing infrastructure, which will also benefit other Canadian projects and services.

A group shot of Canadian SKA Science Director Prof. Kristine Spekkens, SKAO Director-General Prof. Phil Diamond and SKA-Mid Senior Project Manager Ben Lewis visiting the MDA Space early correlator integration lab hosted by Mike Pleasance NRC Project Lead, and MDA Space SKA Program Manager David Stevens.
(L-R) Prof. Kristine Spekkens, Prof. Philip Diamond and SKA-Mid Senior Project Manager Ben Lewis at the MDA Space early correlator integration lab with MDA Space's David Stevens and NRC's Mike Pleasance.

Supporting statements

Mitch Davies, President, National Research Council of Canada

“The National Research Council of Canada’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre plays a leading role in Canada’s international partnerships supporting scientific discovery and innovation in instrumentation for the astronomy community. Our membership in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory is the result of decades of collaboration and hard work. Canada has contributed greatly to defining and designing the new observatory since the 1990s. We are now poised to play a similarly critical role in its construction and scientific use.”


Dr Luc Simard, Director General, NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre 

“SKAO has been a top priority for the Canadian astronomical community for over 20 years, and it is very exciting to see Canada’s participation become a reality. It opens the door to ground-breaking discoveries, cutting-edge technologies and societal benefits that will teach us a lot about the universe we live in and how a large international family of nations can explore it together.”


Prof. Kristine Spekkens, Canadian SKA Science Director, Professor, Physics, Eng Phys and Astronomy, Queen's University

“It's the beginning of a new era for Canada, to finally be Member of the SKA Observatory. It represents the culmination of years of contributions, development and prioritisation for the Canadian community, both scientifically and technologically. Canadians have a broad range of scientific interests and expertise that align very strongly with the high priority science objectives for the SKA. Canada's membership is particularly exciting for early career researchers, as they will be the ones using the telescopes to change our understanding of the universe. It’s also a very high priority for the Canadian astronomical community to ensure that the telescopes we help build and use deliver a positive broader impact to society. It’s one of the reasons to build telescopes, along with doing breakthrough science and developing new technology, and Canadians are keen to work with our international partners to deliver these broader impacts across the decades-long lifetime of the SKA.”


Amanda Cook, fourth year PhD student, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto / Member of the CHIME/FRB Collaboration

“As a young Canadian researcher, I'm very excited for the novel opportunities for discoveries that will be enabled by this wealth of data from a super-sensitive instrument.  We are going to see parts of the Universe that we've never seen before, and all the early-career Canadian scientists are going to be part of this. The SKAO is a large international collaboration, so this allows us to work with scientists from all around the world, learning from people with a broad range of expertise and coming from different backgrounds. My research on fast radio bursts - mysterious transients that last only thousandths of a second - will be revolutionised by the sensitivity of the SKA. We are going to be able to detect maybe 10,000 of new FRBs every year, and use them to measure all kinds of things about the otherwise unseen parts of the Universe.”


Séverin Gaudet, SRC Canada Lead, NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre

“The investments we’re making to support an SKA Regional Centre in Canada will benefit all Canadian astronomy, because we're not going to be operating separate services but scaling up existing CADC/CANFAR infrastructure. As we develop new ways of processing or new ways of doing machine learning or providing machine learning infrastructure, it will be provided to the whole astronomy community. We're providing platforms that all users in Canada will be able to use. What the SRCNet investment brings is democratised science. If you're in a small university, you do not need to have the infrastructure in your institution; any student and any faculty member could access large amounts of processing and access large amounts of data through the data centre, and not just SKA data; in Canada, we're hosting a whole variety of observatory data collections.”


David Stevens, SKA Program Manager, MDA Space

“It is fantastic for MDA to be involved in an international collaboration like this, involving a diverse group of people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds, working with cutting-edge technologies, and developing networks of suppliers and partners that we can use in the future. There's a lot of synergy between what MDA does and what the SKA telescopes are doing, for example the embedded signal processing solutions are applicable to onboard spacecraft processing. We also have applications in compact sensors and low-power, low-cost computing centres, so there's a variety of situations where the technologies we're involved in with the SKAO are going to be useful in the digital economy and in the space economy.” 

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