The Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) will be the world’s biggest radio telescope observatory. The observatory’s HQ is situated at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire. For the initial construction phase, which will cost €2 billion, there will be a mid-frequency array of 197 15-metre dishes in the Karoo Desert in South Africa and a low-frequency array of 131,072 log-periodic antennas in the Western Australian desert.
SKA construction commenced in July 2021 and is expected to formally end in 2029. The SKA is expected to operate for over 50 years. The UK is contributing 15% of the cost of constructing the SKA from 2021 to 2030 and is the largest contributor to the project. The UK has been allocated construction work commensurate with its contribution.
As the UK is a SKAO member, SKAO assists the UK in achieving return on investment through contracts placed with UK companies. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) coordinates and manages the UK’s involvement and subscription with SKAO, and as part of this STFC’s Business Opportunities Team acts as the UK industrial liaison office. The team supports UK companies interested in working with SKAO.
UK allocated work and other opportunities
Unlike other facilities where opportunities are competed for across funder countries, SKA has allocated almost all of the construction contracts to members.
The work allocated to the UK includes:
- software development, managed using SAFe Agile methodology
- computer hardware for the MID and LOW central processing facility
- MID cryosystem
- MID band 5 cryogenic receivers
- synchronisation and timing
- LOW antenna assembly (includes dual polarised log-periodic antennas, single-ended LNAs, and RF coaxial cables)
- LOW signal processing system cabinets (includes racks, rack management boards, firmware and other components).
The majority of UK-allocated work will be competed by UK industry, with direct contracts to SKAO. However, some UK work will be performed as subcontractors to other SKA funder members.
In kind work
Some of the construction work has been allocated to UK national laboratories at STFC and UK universities which have developed detailed knowledge and expertise during the design phase.
SKAO may issue additional tenders from time to time which are expected to be competed by some or all members. This may include opportunities to provide catering services, facilities management and banking services.
How to access opportunities at the SKAO
SKAO’s procurement web page provides information on their procurement principles and policy, processes and procedures, for request to quote (RFQ) opportunities and for opportunities over €200,000:
- for RFQ opportunities of €50,000 to €200,000, the procurement process starts with a market survey to solicit expressions of interest, including a tender form, followed by the RFQ
- for opportunities over €200,000, the procurement process starts with a market survey to solicit expressions of interest, followed by a pre-qualification questionnaire stage which SKAO uses to invite companies to tender.
Tenders are evaluated using best value for money criteria. SKAO uses NEC4 contract templates wherever practical.
Current market surveys and tenders can be found on SKAO’s procurement supplier portal.
Notifications of tenders are circulated by the UK’s industrial liaison officer for SKAO. You need to register for the STFC Tender Opportunities Service if you wish to receive these tender notifications.
Wherever possible SKAO procures from members and stipulates eligibility criteria – for example which members can bid – for each contract.
An important principle is ‘fair work return’. Members receive at least 70% fair work return on their contribution to the capital cost of the first phase of SKA construction (excluding contingency).
UK industrial liaison officer
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Last updated: 23 February 2023