The SKAO Appoints Construction Directors for South Africa and Australia

Press Release from SKAO

Tracy Cheetham and Antony Schinckel have between them nearly 50 years’ experience delivering telescopes and associated infrastructure.

Two respected science infrastructure experts have been appointed to lead construction activities at the telescope sites of the SKAO, respectively, located in the Karoo in South Africa and Western Australia.

Tracy Cheetham, who is currently the head of construction planning for the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), will be the site construction director of the SKAO’s mid-frequency telescope in South Africa.

Antony Schinckel, who is currently the SKA’s head of construction planning for Australia and leads the SKA programme at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, will be the site construction director of the SKAO’s low-frequency telescope in Australia.

Between them, Tracy Cheetham and Ant Schinckel have nearly 50 years’ experience delivering telescopes and associated infrastructure, including the design and construction of SKA precursor telescopes MeerKAT and ASKAP, already in operations at the future SKAO telescope sites.

As site construction directors, they will work within the Telescope Delivery Teams to coordinate the construction activities on the ground and the Telescope Directors to align with the broader SKAO activities in-country.

SKAO Programme Director Dr Joe McMullin, the line manager for the site construction directors, said it was wonderful to welcome them to the SKAO. “Tracy and Ant have amassed a wealth of expertise delivering infrastructure in the remote South African and Australian telescope sites, and I’m thrilled to appoint them to these new roles,” he said. “It’s an exciting step towards seeing the telescope come to life.”

More staff will be recruited for both sites in the coming months as the team expands out from SKAO Global HQ in the UK in preparation for this new exciting phase.

Biography: Tracy Cheetham

Tracy Cheetham joins the SKAO from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), where she is the head of SKA construction planning. Cheetham led the team responsible for land acquisition, site characterisation studies, environmental and heritage walkthroughs, and construction licenses for the SKA.  

Cheetham also led the design consortium responsible for SKA infrastructure and power in South Africa. She was the general manager of infrastructure and site operations, leading the design, construction and bulk infrastructure handover for the MeerKAT radio telescope and supporting South Africa’s bid to host the SKA. 

Cheetham previously worked as the SKA infrastructure manager, leading the land acquisition for the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and the design and construction of infrastructure for the engineering prototype KAT 7 and the CBASS radio telescope.

Before her time at SARAO, Cheetham spent five years in the South African government as the deputy director of construction industry development. She has a Bachelor of Architecture and a Master of Science in environmental engineering and sustainable infrastructure. Cheetham began her career as a project manager as part of the Swedish/South Africa Partnership Programme implemented in Gqeberha in conjunction with the local Municipality. 

Biography: Antony Schinckel

Antony Schinckel joins the SKAO from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, where he is the SKA’s head of construction planning for Australia. Schinckel also heads CSIRO’s SKA program and led the design consortium responsible for SKA infrastructure in Australia.

Schinckel has 30 years’ experience in the design, construction and operation of telescopes in remote areas.  His previous roles include the director of Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), where he was responsible for designing, constructing, and commissioning the $188 million radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.

Schinckel spent eight years commissioning and operating Caltech’s Submillimetre Observatory (CSO) and nine years as director of operations overseeing the construction and functions of the Smithsonian’s innovative Submillimetre construction and functions Array (SMA), both on the 4,200-metre Mauna Kea mountain in Hawaii.

Schinckel has also developed astronomy instrumentation for optical and infra-red telescopes in the harsh conditions of Antarctica with the University of NSW. He has a science degree from the University of Sydney. He has also worked at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and 64-metre Parkes radio telescope in Australia and the 100-metre Effelsberg radio telescope in Germany.

For more information, please visit the SKAO website

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