"After the International Space Station and the Large Hadron Collider the world's next great science project is the Square Kilometre Array", declared the Minister. "Investment in science is a crucial part of this government's long-term economic plan. It's about investing in our future, helping grow new industries and create more jobs - and that will mean more financial security for people across the country."
This represents a major investment in the SKA, whose first phase (Phase 1) of construction has been cost-capped at 650 million euro.
Under the current schedule for the project, funding for construction of Phase 1 is due to be confirmed by 2016 with start of construction expected in 2018 and early science expected to start in 2020.
Effectively, Minister Willetts' announcement secures a significant portion of the construction budget for Phase 1, bringing the project that much closer to taking off.
Following the announcement Prof. Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, stated: "This is a really exciting announcement for the SKA and a solid proof that the project is now really underway. With such a major investment secured there is no stopping it."
The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope. In a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development, the SKA will use hundreds of dishes and hundreds of thousands of antennas connected together by optical fibre, and co-located in Africa and in Australia. Thanks to its sheer scale, the SKA will tackle transformational science questions, ranging from black holes, galaxy evolution, dark energy, cosmic magnetism, even gravity and life in the Universe itself.
The SKA project has been moving forward at a steady pace with the establishment of the SKA Organisation as the supervising body to oversee the project in 2011, the dual site selection in 2012 and the start of the final design phase of the project in November 2013, with the selection of 11 teams - so called consortia - each designing a specific element of the telescope. This represents over 350 scientists from 100 organisations from the public, private and industrial sectors in some 20 countries around the globe, working on designing this revolutionary machine.
Prof. John Womersley, CEO of the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and chair of the SKA Board, stated: "It's fantastic news for the SKA. This represents a significant investment on behalf of the UK and, along with our other contributions, aims to confirm the UKs leading role in key aspects of the project."
STFC also confirmed that it is investing GBP19 million over the next four years in the SKA project, made up of a capital investment in Big Data of GBP 11 million and a further GBP2 million a year in the on-going core programme.
The UK is already heavily involved in the effort to design the computing and software for the project which will have a data processing capacity 1,000 times greater than currently available.
The GBP19 million from STFC will be made up of grants to the three main SKA technical institutes in the UK, the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford, along with the University College London and the University of Southampton.
The announcement comes as the SKA's Board meeting is taking place at the SKA Headquarters, with high-level representatives from all 11 member countries attending. In another confirmation of the SKA's convincing development, more member states are also expected to join the SKA Organisation in 2014.
The Netherlands eScience Center is involved in the DOME project, which aims to develop advanced technologies for handling the massive amount of data that will be produced by the Square Kilometer Array (SKA). The NLeSC astronomy project Big Data for the Big Bang is also extremely important in the development of hardware and software for SKA.