The U.S. Technology Development Project (TDP) is a four-year effort to develop technology for meter and centimeter wavelength astronomy that will provide design choices for the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) program. These options will include hard cost determinations for key elements for the SKA. The work plan for the TDP is integrated with other international efforts for developing the SKA, including those organized under the European-Commission funded Preparatory SKA Project (PREPSKA).
The SKA is the next-generation radio observatory for meter and centimeter wavelengths. It will be used to answer key questions at the frontiers of fundamental physics, cosmology and cosmic evolution, and astrobiology. Areas of fundamental physics include characterization of dark energy and dark matter and the nature of gravity. The SKA will detect and quantify the epoch of reionization and the formation of the first stars. It will map out the structure and evolution of galaxies using spectral lines from atomic hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The origins of cosmic magnetism and its role in structure formation will be studied through a massive survey of Faraday rotation. Astrobiology includes the birth of solar systems, organic molecules, and searching for signals from other civilizations (SETI).
SKA science is described in detail in the book, ``Science with the Square Kilometer Array,'' eds. C. Carilli and S. Rawlings, New Astronomy Reviews, 48, 2004; available online at ScienceDirect and individual articles at the www.skatelescope.org which presents key science areas along with a large body of compelling science also enabled by the SKA. Also available at www.skatelescope.org is a brochure with a good overview of SKA science and numerous technical as well as scientifically-oriented memoranda.
The SKA program has recently developed a Preliminary Specifications document that lays out implementation options and technology challenges that need to be met before construction can take place. Two acceptable sites have been identified in Western Australia and Southern Africa. The reference design is based on a large number of small-diameter dish antennas, the LNSD concept originally pursued by the US SKA Consortium, along with phased arrays both as aperture arrays and as phased-array feeds. Proceeding from concept to design is the goal of the next four years, the term of our work plan, and also the time frame identified by the SKA Project Development Office (SPDO) that will lead to a state of project readiness for constructing the SKA some time in the next decade.
The TDP is managed at Cornell Unversity through the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) with the U.S. SKA Consortium serving an advisory role.