Space, including Radio Astronomy is one of the State's science priority areas, as identified in the Science and Innovation Framework. 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 2020 and construction is likely to continue for a number of years. 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 up to 132,000 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, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS), 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 Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation 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 websites of the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI), Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA), and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Office:
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 then 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 commencing in the mid-1990s to identify areas suitable for a new radio telescope facility in districts of relatively low mineral potential and within range of major urban facilities needed to support the operations.
- 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 the 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 REMP assessment must be completed and approved. This REMP 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 threshold levels, the activities and/or equipment must be modified to meet acceptable levels. The REMP is required to be submitted through DMIRS to the entity operating the radio telescope facilities (currently the CSIRO) for assessment and, if acceptable, for approval by DMIRS’ Director General.
The REMP will be submitted as part of any subsequent related Programme of Work (POW) (or Mining Proposal if exploration successfully identifies an orebody). Therefore the REMP will constitute a part of an approved POW and the operator will be required to comply with the REMP; 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
Guidelines for Exploration and Prospecting - Radio Telescope - 448 Kb
Radio telescope mineral resource management area (RTMRMA) in support of sensitive radio-astronomy operations in the vicinity of the Murchison radio-astronomy observatory (MRO).
To seek detailed advice about the preparation of the REMP, please contact:
Mr. Mike Freeman
Project Manager, Resource Access Branch
Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
Ph. 9222 3502
The Department of Jobs Tourism Science and Innovation is the Western Australian government agency responsible for the State's management of SKA and radio-astronomy matters.