CC goes where no law firm has gone before on SKA deal

Clifford Chance has beamed itself into the intergalactic market by winning a role on the establishment of an organisation that could help uncover secrets about life beyond Earth.


Daniel Sandelson
Daniel Sandelson

TMT partner Daniel Sandelson led the magic ­circle firm’s team advising the founding board of the SKA Organisation, which is mandated to design the largest and most complex radio telescope ever created.

The not-for-profit group is aimed at bringing the ­running of the Square ­Kilometre Array (SKA) project under one roof.

The agreement to establish the entity was signed on 23 November by Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK, with further ­signatories expected.

Scientists and engineers working on the project are charged with developing a radio telescope that will dwarf previous facilities such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

“The SKA will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth,” the organisation said.

Sandelson’s role was to suggest ways to create a ­governance and operational structure for the organisation, taking into account the needs of the diverse parties involved, including governments, quangos, scientific agencies, commercial ­businesses and funders. It also drafted the group’s ­constitution and rules.

The mandate came through Amsterdam ­associate Liesbeth Buiter, who was approached by contacts at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

She passed on the instruction to Sandelson, whose team included Buiter, TMT associate Nick Lee Morrison in London, Dubai associate Arun Visweswaran, London tax partner Etienne ­Wongand and London tax associate Alex Tostevin.

The firm has advised on a number of satellite and transponder deals in the past, but this is Sanderson’s first space transaction.

Sandelson said: “Over the years my group has advised on many international telecommunications ­projects, but this is our first intergalactic one.”