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Switzerland signs up to Square Kilometre Array Observatory

Image: Carolina Ödman [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Green light comes after Swiss parliament approves over €30 million contribution to international astronomy facility

Switzerland’s government has given the go-ahead for the country to become a full member of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory, an international project to build the world’s most sensitive radio telescope for use in astronomy.

The project, costing around €1.9 billion, got the green light to start construction earlier this year and is expected to be completed by 2030. Thousands of dishes making up the Square Kilometre Array will be built in Australia and South Africa, while the headquarters are at Jodrell Bank in the UK.

On 17 December, Switzerland’s Federal Council gave approval for full membership of the observatory following a vote by the country’s parliament to approve a membership fee of 8.9 million Swiss francs (€8.5m) as well as a further CHF24.7m (€23.7m) to fund Swiss participation in the construction and operation of the facility until 2030.

Switzerland’s government research agency had carried out an analysis in consultation with industry and research stakeholders, which suggested that only full membership would deliver a worthwhile return on investment.

Thirteen other countries are part of the observatory at national level, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The national members outside Europe are Australia, Canada, China, India and South Africa.