Canadian Astronomical Society Provides Quarterly Update

CASTOR space telescope. Credit: CASCA.

The Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) provided its quarterly update through its Cassiopeia Newsletter last month. The newsletter provides a comprehensive update on existing programs such as the proposed CASTOR space telescope, the Square Kilometre Array and occasionally new happenings.

Here are are couple of notable updates:

Update on CASTOR (Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and uv Research)


International partnerships in the CASTOR mission continue to develop. In October, the UK Space Agency approved the submission of a formal funding proposal targeting several aspects of CASTOR involvement by the UK; that proposal is under review, with the results expected later this month for work to begin in early 2023. The ISRO APEX advisory group met in November to review a proposed a joint mission study with CSA; a de-briefing of that meeting is expected soon. The JPL detector group continue their work on detector development towards the expected delivery of QE-enhanced detectors for testing in Canada early next year. Additional, less-defined ideas are also being pursued with NASA, Spain, and others. When formalized, any agreements will be detailed in the mission approval and funding request to the Canadian government for a Canadian led mission, in late 2023.

Read the full update on CASTOR.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Credit: ESO.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Credit: ESO.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Cyberattack

On the morning of Saturday, October 29, ALMA was targeted by a cyberattack on its computer systems, forcing the suspension of astronomical observations and the public website. The threat was contained, and the attack did not compromise the ALMA antennas or any scientific data. A Crisis Management Team at the Joint ALMA Observatory developed a full-recovery plan in consultation with cyber security officers from ESO/NAOJ/NRAO.

Operations resumed at the end of December. Read the full update on ALMA.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

The SKA Observatory (SKAO) is now 18 months into the construction phase of SKA Phase 1 (=SKA1). On 5 December 2022, construction commencement ceremonies were held at the SKA1-Low telescope site in Australia and the SKA1-Mid site in South Africa to mark the formal start of construction. In combination with previous construction phase commitments, major new contracts announced during the ceremonies bring the total amount of construction funds allocated so far by the Observatory to close to €500 million, including the major infrastructure and antennas for both telescopes.  Key project milestones in the staged construction plan are the first correlated SKA1-Low stations and SKA1-Mid dishes in 2024, the first data from scientifically competitive arrays in 2026, and science readiness reviews of completed arrays underway by 2028.

Delivering benefits to society while building and operating cutting-edge radio telescopes is key to the mission of the SKAO, and includes building partnerships with Indigenous and local communities at the remote telescope sites. In Australia, SKA1-Low will be located on the traditional lands of the Wajarri Yamaji, who have lived there for tens of thousands of years. On 5 November 2022, the Wajarri celebrated the registration of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) for the SKA1-Low site, which ensures that their cultural heritage will be protected and that they will receive sustainable and intergenerational benefits in areas such as enterprise and training and education. In recognition of the agreement, the Wajarri gifted the site the traditional name Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, meaning “sharing the sky and stars”. In South Africa, the Karoo region in which the SKA1-Mid site is located was walked by the early ancestors of the San, who are considered to be some of the most ancient people on Earth. The San were involved in ecology and heritage studies conducted as part of the strategic environmental assessment required to construct the SKA, with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed to protect and promote San culture and heritage. More broadly, SKA1-Mid will be an important vehicle for human capital development across a variety of demographics on the African continent. For example, 90% of the Karoo-based staff of MeerKAT – the precursor telescope that will be integrated into SKA1-Mid – originate from local communities, while a variety of education, financial assistance and mentorship programs are in place to support local artisans and businesses.

Artist illustration of the Square Kilometer Array
Artist illustration of the Square Kilometer Array. Credit: SKAO.

Webinars will take place in early 2023 to provide CASCA members with additional information regarding the ongoing process of respectful engagement with Indigenous peoples and local communities on which the SKAO will continue to build across the lifetime of the project. They will consist of short presentations from individuals in Australia and South Africa who are directly involved in these efforts, followed by ample time for questions and discussion moderated by LCRIC. Considering differences in time zones as well as in local contexts, two separate webinars will be held to focus on the SKA sites in Australia and in South Africa, respectively. The Australia-focussed webinar is scheduled for Monday, 13 Feb 2023 at 4pm Eastern. The timing of the South Africa-focussed webinar is still being finalized, and will likely take place in March 2023. Details regarding webinar content, timing and how to participate will be circulated to the CASCA membership early next year.

Canada is currently an Observer of the SKAO Council, composed of representatives from the eight current Member States, which governs the project. A cooperation agreement between NRC and the SKAO allows Canada’s scientific and engineering communities to continue participating in the SKA through March 2023, while longer-term SKAO membership is given full consideration by the federal government. Work under the cooperation agreement is fully funded and proceeding on schedule, with the Canadian correlator team from NRC and industry partner MDA on track to provide the backends to support the initial four-dish Array Assembly (= AA0.5) and the subsequent 8-dish Array Assembly (= AA1) for SKA1-Mid. The prototype system integration facility at MDA is nearing completion, and integration of the digitizer and correlator hardware there is making good progress.

Continue reading the full update on SKA.

Other Updates

There are several other updates available including: The President’s Message, Canadian Gemini Office News, the Carman Costain Biography, a CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis, CRAQ Summer School Announcement, an update from The Long Range Plan Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC), Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE), and finally the ngVLA (next-generation Very Large Array).

CASCA has also put a out a call for nominations for the 2023 CASCA Awards.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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