Radio astronomy is one of the State's five science priority areas, as identified in A Science Statement for Western Australia - Growing Western Australia. The remote Murchison region is one of the best sites in the world for radio astronomy as it has relatively few sources of interference compared with other more populated areas.
Any activities under the authority of the Mining Act 1978 near the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory are required to operate without generating radio interference that could be harmful to radio telescope operations.
Square Kilometre Array
Western Australia's Mid West region has been selected to co-host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The SKA will be the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescope and involves scientists and engineers from all over the world. The first phase of the SKA is scheduled to begin construction in 2018 and construction is likely to be phased to continue until 2025. The SKA will provide a great leap in sensitivity, resolution and survey speed compared to existing radiotelescopes, enabling it to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe.
In 2012 the international SKA Organisation Board agreed on a dual site delivery of the SKA, with it being split between Australia and South Africa as co-hosts. Under this joint hosting arrangement, Australia will host SKA1-Low, comprising over 100,000 low-frequency antennas. The SKA will be centred on and around the existing Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO).
For more information on the telescope and its structure visit the SKA Telescope website.
The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)
The MRO is located within the Boolardy Pastoral Lease situated 315 km northeast of Geraldton and 180 km west of Meekatharra. The facility is currently managed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The location was identified after detailed investigations by the Geological Survey of Western Australia, a division of the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP), in collaboration with CSIRO that commenced in the 1990s. It was selected because of the then interpreted low mineral and petroleum prospectivity and the remoteness of the area. The low levels of human activity mean that the site is superbly radio-quiet, making it the premier location for future radio-astronomy in Australia.
The MRO is already home to CSIRO's Australian SKA Pathfinder and the international Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescopes. The Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA, which surrounds the MRO, was established in 2005. The MRO was officially opened on 5 October 2012.
Within the Western Australian Government, the Office of Science in Department of Premier and Cabinet coordinates the State’s involvement in the SKA project.
The Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA
The Australian and Western Australian Governments established the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA, centred on the MRO, to protect radio astronomy while allowing for opportunities for coexistence with other activities in the Mid West region. It is intended that radio-frequency signals will be kept to levels that will ensure any emissions do not damage the operation of the SKA or other radio-astronomy activities within the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA.
Detailed information about the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA can be found on the DPC website. It is a region extending in various guises to 260 km from a central point defined as:
- Latitude 26°42' 15" South, longitude 116° 39' 32" East (GDA94 datum).
- Grid coordinate 466 324 mE, 7 046 321 mN, GDA 94 datum, Zone 50
In 2001 the State Minister for Mines and Petroleum established two Mining Act Section 19 Exemption Areas to preclude further tenement activity. Then in 2006 the Department of Mines and Petroleum established a File Notation Area on its digital tenement mapping system to assist in the protection of the radio-quiet characteristics of the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA:
- The two Section 19 exemptions (numbered S19/157 and S19/158) were established following several years of geological research to identify areas suitable for a new radio telescope facility in districts of relatively low mineral potential.
- The File Notation Area 7618 (FNA 7618) is now referred to as the Radio Telescope Mineral Resource Management Area, which is a circle of 70 km radius, centred on MRO.
Radio Telescope Mineral Resource Management Area (RTMRMA) and the Radio Emissions Management Plan (REMP)
Those parts of tenements granted from 22 December 2006 that fall within FNA7618 require all mining and exploration activities to follow a Radio Emissions Management Plan (REMP).
Before any exploration or mining activity begins, a Radio Emissions Management Plan assessment must be completed and approved. This Radio Emissions Management Plan will document the electrical and electronic equipment to be used and will allow for a determination of the potential radiofrequency interference to radio telescopes. If any interference is above radio quiet levels, the activities and/or equipment must be modified to meet acceptable levels. The Radio Emissions Management Plan will need submitting through DMP to the entity operating the radio telescope facilities (currently the CSIRO) for assessment and, if acceptable, for approval by DMP's Director General.
The Radio Emissions Management Plan will need submitting as part of any subsequent related Programme of Work (POW) (or Mining Proposal if exploration successfully identifies an orebody). Therefore the Radio Emissions Management Plan will constitute a part of an approved POW and the operator will be required to comply with the Radio Emissions Management Plan; any breaches will result in penalties being imposed—possibly including loss of the tenement.
The Radio Emissions Management Plan guidelines give details on the requirements and an overview of the assessment process.
Land Exemptions under Section 19 of the Mining Act 1978 (S19/157 - 158)
In the late 1990s, the Geological Survey of Western Australia worked with CSIRO to locate a premium site for the then proposed SKA. Over several years of research, areas were identified and selected for their low mineral and petroleum prospectivity and extremely good radio telescope qualities. In 2001 the Minister for Mines and Petroleum exempted areas of land at the core SKA site and surrounding areas from the provisions of the Mining Act 1978 under Section 19. The exemptions prevent the grant of mining tenements within the S19/157 and S19/158 zones.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is the Australian government agency responsible for regulating broadcasting, internet, and radio communications. ACMA has issued legislative and regulatory documents under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Commonwealth) to create the Australian Radio Quiet Zone WA to ensure the radio-astronomy instruments currently operating and the planned SKA are protected from radio-frequency interference.
SKA related documents
To seek detailed advice about the preparation of the REMP, please contact:
Mr. Mike Freeman
Project Manager, Project Facilitation, Mineral Titles Division
Department of Mines and Petroleum
Ph. 9222 3502; Mob 0437 479 663
The Department of Premier and Cabinet is the Western Australian government agency responsible for the State's management of SKA and radio-astronomy matters. Contact Official Australian SKA for State Government issues in regard to the MRO.