NSF Awards Funding for Next-Generation VLA Antenna Development

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) $23 million for design and development work on the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA), including producing a prototype antenna. The ngVLA, a powerful radio telescope with 263 dish antennas distributed across North America, is proposed as one of the next generation of cutting-edge astronomical observatories.

“The ngVLA will be a key tool for answering the important scientific questions facing astronomers in the coming decades. We welcome this vital support for the next step — building the first antenna — toward making this exciting research facility a reality,” said NRAO Director Tony Beasley.

The ngVLA will include 244 antennas that are 18 meters (59 feet) in diameter, with an additional 19, 6-meter (20-foot) dishes at the center of the system.

The ngVLA project currently is under review by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. That report is expected soon. Following that report, the project will need approval by the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board and funding by Congress. Construction could begin by 2026 with early scientific observations starting in 2029 and full scientific operations by 2035.

“This exciting project marks the beginning of a new era, and major milestone, in antenna technology,” said Joseph Pesce, NRAO Program Officer at the NSF. “While we look forward to the results from the Astro2020 Decadal Survey in regard to ngVLA, we expect this is the antenna of the future and will be used well beyond any one project,” he added.

On May 27, NRAO officials signed an agreement with the firm mtex antenna technology Gmbh of Germany to develop a production-ready design and produce the prototype 18-meter antenna. Once built, the 18-meter prototype will be installed at the site of NSF’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in west-central New Mexico, where it will undergo extensive testing.

Building on the scientific and technical legacies of the VLA and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the ngVLA will have sensitivity to detect faint objects and resolving power — ability to see fine detail — more than 10 times greater than the current VLA. It is being designed to address fundamental questions in all major areas of astrophysics and provide a major leap forward in our understanding of phenomena such as planets, galaxies, black holes, and the dynamic sky. The ngVLA’s capabilities will complement those of ALMA and other planned instruments such as the lower-frequency Square Kilometer Array.

“The ngVLA will fit neatly into a suite of current and planned observatories that will operate over the next decades, offering the entire astronomical community vital capabilities unmatched by any other telescope system,” said Mark McKinnon, ngVLA Project Director.

“Strengthening New Mexico’s leadership in radio astronomy is going to take an ambitious vision. I am so pleased to see this funding positioned to help jumpstart the Next Generation Very Large Array project so that the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, with offices present at New Mexico Tech, can begin their work to enhance America’s world-renowned scientific research infrastructure across the U.S. – and right here in New Mexico. I will continue fighting for similar funding that creates career opportunities within New Mexico’s science community and keeps our state at the cutting edge of space research and technology,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

“New Mexico is a national leader in innovation and scientific discovery, and I’m pleased to see the National Science Foundation supporting the design and development of NRAO’s Next Generation Very Large Array, a project that will foster further discoveries. As a new member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I’ll continue working to secure strong investments that shore up our state’s science and technology economy,” said U.S Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM)

“I am excited to see the National Science Foundation has awarded funding to develop the Next Generation Very Large Array,” said Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-NM). “This new radio telescope, parts of which will be located right here in New Mexico, will be instrumental in gaining a better understanding of our universe. I am proud New Mexico will be at the forefront of this innovative advancement in the field of astronomy.”

The ngVLA will have a dense core of antennas and a signal processing center at the current site of the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin in New Mexico. The system will include other antennas located throughout New Mexico and in west Texas, eastern Arizona, and northern Mexico. More far-flung antennas will be located in clusters in Hawaii, Washington, California, Iowa, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico (at Arecibo Observatory), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada. Operations will be conducted at the VLA site and in nearby Socorro, New Mexico, with additional science operations in a metropolitan area to be determined.

The ngVLA’s design is the result of extensive collaboration with researchers across the landscape of astrophysics. Through a series of workshops and science meetings beginning in 2015, NRAO worked with numerous scientists and engineers to develop a design that will support a wide breadth of scientific investigations over the lifetime of the facility. Participants from around the world contributed suggestions and expertise that helped guide the design.

“We heard from many of our scientific colleagues about how they want to use such a next-generation radio telescope, and worked hard to build a consensus on its capabilities to support their needs. We continue to get valuable advice and support from those who serve on our ngVLA science and technical councils,” said Eric Murphy, NRAO’s Project Scientist for ngVLA.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

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Media Contact:
Dave Finley, Public Information Officer
(505) 241-9210
[email protected]

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NRAO Director Tony Beasley Appointed to New Five-Year Term

 

Dr. Tony Beasley, Director of the National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), has been appointed to a new five-year term. The Board of Trustees for AUI— which operates NRAO under a cooperative agreement— and the NRAO Director Review Committee conducted a thorough review of Beasley’s leadership and performance earlier this year, and have appointed the Director to the new term through May 2027.

 

“Tony is an outstanding leader and stalwart champion for NRAO, the field of radio astronomy, the beauty of science, and the critical role of big facilities in the R&D ecosystem,” said Adam Cohen, President and CEO of AUI, which operates NRAO under a cooperative agreement. “He continues to support very innovative education and outreach programs to help build the workforce of the future, as well as programs and activities to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces.” 

 

Over the course of more than two decades, Beasley’s leadership has shaped the present and future of NRAO’s leading-edge radio astronomy facilities, including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), and Very Large Array (VLA). More recently, he has collaborated on efforts to encourage cooperation between commercial spectrum users and research facilities and has created partnerships to explore the use of Green Bank Observatory’s radar systems in planetary science and defense applications. 

 

Beasley recently has generated significant support for the future of NRAO’s facilities, reaching major milestones in 2021. The observatory’s proposed next generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) received high priority for new ground-based observatories in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020). Late last year, NRAO’s Central Development Laboratory (CDL) received approval and funding through the ambitious ALMA2030 Development Plan to upgrade its Band 6 receivers, which are ALMA’s most productive receivers. 

 

An ardent supporter of diversity, equity, and inclusion in astronomy and astrophysics, Beasley has elevated the efforts of NRAO’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Broader Impacts, and community development initiatives, including the National Astronomy Consortium (NAC), RADIAL, National and International Non-traditional Exchange (NINE), Research Experiences for Undergraduate students (REU), and most recently, grants for women in engineering fellowships and the development of a next generation Learning Center (ngLC). 

 

“Being a part of NRAO for more than 20 years has given me the opportunity to observe, contribute to, and lead growth and change in astronomy that positively impacts our facilities and allows us to collaborate with other like-minded institutions,” said Beasley. “I am proud of the work our teams have accomplished in research, engineering, outreach, and equity, and look forward to serving the NRAO community for another five years.”

 

Beasley, who holds a Doctorate in Astrophysics from the University of Sydney, was first appointed as NRAO Director in February 2012, after previously serving the observatory and the radio astronomy community in multiple capacities. He joined NRAO as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 1991 and served as Deputy Assistant Director in 1997 and Assistant Director from 1998 to 2000. He briefly left NRAO that year to become Project Manager for the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA). In 2004, he returned to NRAO as Assistant Director, as well as Project Manager for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. From 2008 to 2012, Beasley served as the Chief Operating Officer and Project Manager of NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). In addition to his role as NRAO Director, Beasley presently serves as the AUI Vice President for Radio Astronomy Operations. 

 

In January 2022, Beasley was honored as a Lifetime Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of his significant contributions to the field of radio astronomy. 

 

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