SKAO telescope project in Murchison receives WA’s first International Organisation number plates

Staff reporterGeraldton Guardian
Department of Transport client support officer Damon Ormes, SKA-Low Telescope director Dr Sarah Pearce and Department of Transport policy officer Aaron Taylor.
Camera IconDepartment of Transport client support officer Damon Ormes, SKA-Low Telescope director Dr Sarah Pearce and Department of Transport policy officer Aaron Taylor. Credit: Supplied

Construction is under way at the SKA-Low telescope site in the Murchison, with the “mega-science” project with global partners already reaching a first — receiving the first International Organisation licence plates in WA.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised that IO plates would be needed because of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory’s status as an Intergovernmental Organisation.

IO plates are similar to consular licence plates, although they don’t exempt the SKAO from WA traffic rules.

About 20 vehicles will be fitted with these plates.

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As this is the first time they are being used in WA, the Department of Transport had to design the plates from scratch and test them alongside WA Police to ensure they are readable by different automatic systems, such as speed cameras.

“This is a great example of the WA Government and SKAO working together, enabling WA to host its first mega-science project on behalf of the international community,” SKAO telescope director Sarah Pearce said.

“We’re proud to have paved the way for future International Organisations coming to WA. SKAO will be in WA for at least 50 years, so we look forward to many decades of using these new IO plates.”

On-site construction has been ramping up, with the first telescope-related infrastructure work taking place last month — earthworks that will service the antenna arrays that comprise the first six stations of the SKA-Low telescope, undertaken by Wajarri Holdings.

Since that stage, clearing, trenching and backfilling work has been taking place in preparation for laying power and fibre optic cable. This fibre link will eventually connect the first array of low-frequency antennas to the super computers more than 600km away at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth.

A temporary “fly camp” was recently opened, providing temporary accommodation for staff, contractors and visitors while a permanent construction camp is built. That camp — to house 200 people — is nearing completion.

It has been 30 years since the SKA telescope was first proposed and a decade since WA was chosen as the host site, with the Murchison selected for its radio quietness.

The construction of 130,000 low-frequency radio antennas — structures that resemble Christmas trees made out of coat hangers — is the final part of the ambitious project.

The SKA’s collection area of one million square metres will interpret radio waves from distant sources such as stars and black holes that are so faint by the time they reach Earth, scientists have been unable to study them.

The unprecedented sensitivity of the SKA will allow astronomers to peer through space-time to document the early years of the universe, including just after the Big Bang.

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