Federal Council wants Switzerland to join the international SKA Observatory

Bern, 04.06.2021 - The Square Kilometre Array, the most sensitive radio telescope developed so far, is being constructed to research the origin of the very first stars and galaxies. It will be operated by the international organisation Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO). The Federal Council is requesting Parliament to increase the guarantee credit already approved so that Switzerland can become a member of the SKAO until 2030. On 4 June it submitted a dispatch to this effect to Parliament.

The Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) is an international observatory of global importance. Headquartered at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK, it has facilities in South Africa and Australia and will operate the SKA, the most sensitive radio telescope ever built. The telescope is expected to provide revolutionary findings about the universe, primarily relating to the origin and development of the first stars and galaxies. Further major research areas include the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of dark matter, life forms in the universe, dark energy and gravitation. The SKA is expected to cost a total of EUR 1,986 million.

On 16 September 2020 the Federal Assembly approved a budget of CHF 8.9 million for Switzerland to join the SKAO as stated in the 2021–2024 ERI Dispatch. During the course of 2020, SERI worked with players from industry and institutions in Switzerland with an interest in the SKAO to assess the current situation. Their analysis showed that only by becoming a full member can Switzerland get a satisfactory return on its investment. As the budget formerly approved does not allow Switzerland to contribute to the construction and operation of the SKAO beyond 2024, the Federal Council is asking Parliament to approve a further CHF 24.7 million to fund Switzerland’s participation up to 2030. If this amount is approved, the Federal Council can confirm Switzerland’s participation in the international organisation up to that date.

Switzerland’s participation in international research infrastructures gives the country direct access to experiments and the latest data. Whereas many of the large international research infrastructures in which Switzerland participates are dominated by a strong European core group, the SKAO is managed and funded by three large Commonwealth states; the UK, Australia and South Africa.

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