NRAO and STARGATE Collaboration to Spur Innovation: MOU Launches New Initiative

February 11, 2015

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Va., and the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at the University of Texas, Brownsville (UTB), have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) laying the groundwork for collaborating on new initiatives and frontier radio astronomy technologies.

This collaboration will foster leading-edge research and development at both NRAO’s Central Development Laboratory, where some of the world’s most sophisticated radio astronomy technologies are engineered, and STARGATE (Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission), a public-private partnership at CARA to develop new radio frequency based technologies for a wide range of academic and commercial applications.

STARGATE was conceived by UTB Professor Fredrick Jenet as a partnership between CARA and SpaceX, a private aerospace company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. Its mission is to foster the spirit of Silicon Valley in the Rio Grande Valley area. Many of the communications and radio technologies proposed by STARGATE share similar engineering constraints with the radio astronomy components developed by NRAO. These overlapping design challenges and opportunities paved the way for the two organizations to work together.

“There are obvious opportunities for NRAO and STARGATE to share knowledge and experience so both organizations can innovate and lead on these highly specialized, highly advanced technologies,” said Jenet. “I am thrilled to work with the entire team at NRAO, which is world-renowned for its engineering capabilities.”

Initial areas of collaboration, according to the MOU, will focus on “large interferometric arrays, with special emphasis on phased array receiver systems.” These technologies will then hopefully lead to joint observational research programs in areas such as pulsar studies, spectroscopic observations of various interstellar atoms and molecules, and other forefront astronomical observations.

Additionally, this collaboration will jointly explore the development of novel spacecraft tracking and location techniques for both Earth-orbit and interplanetary missions.

NRAO instruments have been used previously to track spacecraft with unprecedented precision. Knowing the location of these spacecraft is essential for a number of scientific research projects as well as guiding distance spacecraft, such as New Horizons, with pinpoint accuracy to objects in the farthest reaches of our solar system.

The MOU also enables NRAO and CARA to team up on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education initiatives and to hold joint workshops on topics of common interest.

“Sharing similar aspirations makes this collaboration an obvious benefit for both our organizations,” said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. “We look forward to working together and achieving some very lofty goals.”