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When finished, the Allen array will be only around one percent of the size of the SKA, yet it will be a crucial proving ground for the necessary technologies, says SKA project office director Richard Schilizzi. “We’ll learn a lot from that–everything from the receivers they’ve got, to the feed that channels the radio waves into the receiver,” he says. It’s one of several projects underway that will test the various technologies.

Another groundbreaking technology for the SKA will be a section in the center–sort of a hole in the center of a donut of raised dishes–which will consist of flat panels laid out on the ground. Unlike the dishes, which must each be mechanically oriented toward the area of sky being observed, the “pointing” of the flat array is purely electronic, as in some modern radar systems. Consequently, researchers can study different areas of the sky without physically moving any parts of the array, and can even observe several different regions in the sky at the same time.

“You can have multiple groups using the telescope at once,” Schilizzi says. His team is currently trying to determine just how much of the sky they will be able to see simultaneously.

Headquartered in Dwingeloo, Netherlands, the SKA project is a collaboration of scientists in 17 countries, and is expected to cost around 1 billion euros (US$1.3 billion).

The current plan is to begin scientific operations in 2014 with about 10 percent of the array completed, then continue observations as the array gradually expands.

“As soon as you have two telescopes you can start doing science,” Schilizzi says.

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