The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a radio interferometer in development by the SKA Organizationthat will have a total collecting area up to one square kilometre – and will therefore be the world’s largest radio telescope – distributed among several thousand antennas across continental scales with baselines up to 3000 km wide. It will cover a broad radio-band range (70MHz-10GHz in a first phase, up to 25GHz in the second phase), it will image the sky with a wide field of view (200 square degrees @1 GHz) and it will perform high angular resolution surveys up to a million times faster than current leading radio interferometers, such as the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA). Thank to its sensitivity and field of view, the SKA will represent a quantum leap over current interferometers.


The SKA development is directed by multiple Key Science Projects. The detection of atomic hydrogen up to high redshift will be one of the main studies and will be used as a tool to understand the mass distribution along time and throughout the Universe. Due to the scientific interests of the AMIGA collaboration in the HI evolution in the early universe and, in particular, in the study of the interstellar medium (ISM) of the galaxies as a function of environment, the scientific synergies with the SKA and its pathfinders are clear.


This infrastructure will be among the most challenging ones of the next decades, from a technology point of view. IAA-CSIC has been taking part of this project since the beginning, as a strategy towards a fruitful future exploration of SKA outcomes. This centre, through the VIA-SKA project, has brought together public research centres and private companies performing research and technological development in areas of social impact, such as high-speed data distribution, massive data processing or in the generation, storage and distribution of renewable energy, among others.


The SKA will be built in remote areas of South Africa and Australia, spreading over 3000Km in each area, in latitudes with high solar irradiance. Solar-based power supply is therefore an option for the SKA that may contribute to a (near) zero carbon footprint for the next generation of telescopes. The need for renewable energy is a problem, not only for the SKA, but for all the future Large Scale Research Infrastructures. The Roadmap of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) has indicated that a multitude of test facilities and Research Infrastructures are paramount to lead the world in the efficient use of energy, in promoting new renewable forms of energy, and in the development of low carbon emission technologies, to be adopted as part of a future Strategic Energy Technology Plan.


BIOSTIRLING-4SKA is a FP7 project (Project Number 309028) to design and develop solar power generation systems, composed by dishes with Stirling engines, bio-hybrid energy collector, and efficient storage at the industrial scale. The system was designed so that it could be scaled to support part of SKA power needs, guaranteeing 24/7 energy supply independently of weather conditions, and support for different power loads, through modularity.


The BIOSTIRLING-4SKA plant was tested in similar conditions of irradiance as those found in South Africa, in order to assess both the output in terms of generated power, and the material’s resistance. The test site for both BIOSTIRLING-4SKA and prototypes of SKA receivers is the Herdade da Contenda in Moura (Portugal), as it recieves equivalent amounts of solar irradiance, while having the lowest levels of radio-frequency interference (RFI) in Europe.


Through its participation in the development of the SKA, in the framework of projects such as the already mentioned VIA-SKA, members of the AMIGA group and other IAA researchers have been involved in the establishment of the requirements and specifications of all the components of the Power Plant, in terms of the project objectives, taking also into account requirements that would be imposed by the SKA as a final user.


Within the project, the IAA group was also in charge of the communication and dissemination of the project, showing the social impact of both renewable energies and potential astronomical discoveries, all revolving around the idea of how a single star, our Sun, can be used to study a whole Universe of stars. As a result, a Documentary 55 minutes long was produce, which presents the development of an autonomous solar power production system and its possible use in a megainfrastructure such as SKA. This documentary was filmed in several cities of Europe and puts together renewable energies, astronomy and innovation. I was written and directed by the IAA-CSIC, and produced by LANIAKEA S.L.


This work was financed by the EU 7th Framework Programme in the area of Research, development and testing of solar dish systems (ENERGY.2012.2.5.1). Project reference: 309028.



  • Funded under: FP7 (Seventh Framework Programme)
  • Area: Research, development and testing of solar dish systems. (ENERGY.2012.2.5.1)
  • Project reference: 309028
  • Total cost: 6.3 million euro
  • EU contribution: 3.9 million euro
  • Execution: From 2013-06-01 to 2017-04-30
  • Duration: 36 months + extension
  • Contract type: Collaborative project