ALMA, (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) will be the world’s most sensitive, highest resolution millimeter-wavelength telescope

High atop the Atacama Desert in northern Chile an international effort to develop the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope is reaching scientific milestones. At more than 5,000 meters above sea level the Chajnantor plateau is the site for the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope providing the driest atmosphere and clearest view of the Universe from Earth.

SATCOM Technologies is designing, manufacturing and delivering 25 12-meter antennas for the North American portion of the project. When completed, the international astronomy facility will comprise 66 radio telescopes that can be moved to span 10 miles of the desert plateau creating nearly 71,000 square feet of radio light-collecting area. Working together as one telescope, the antennas will provide a spatial resolution as much as 10 times higher than the Hubble Space Telescope. The first antenna was delivered in 2008, and the rest will be delivered to Chile at about one every two months, finishing shipment to the site at the end of 2011.

ALMA’s primary goal is to provide a radio telescope array that will allow scientists to observe and image galaxies out to the edge of the Universe, and stars and planets in their formative stages with unprecedented clarity. Millimeter and submillimeter-wavelength astronomy is the study of the Universe in the spectral region between what is traditionally considered radio waves and infrared radiation. In this realm, ALMA will study the structure of the early Universe and open a new window on celestial origins, capturing never-before-seen details about the very first stars and directly imaging the formation of planets.

Brian Schrader, Senior Director of Projects for SATCOM Technologies’ products business, said, “The antennas we provide to the ALMA project are a result of a collaborative effort between our SATCOM Technologies Kilgore, Texas facility and our facility in Germany (formerly Vertex Antennentechnik GmbH) which was instrumental in the bulk of the design work.”

Ms. Suzette Lucy, SATCOM Technologies Program Manager for the ALMA project, said “the joint effort and well defined division of scope between the Kilgore and German project teams has been paramount in the success of the project thus far. The Kilgore facility primarily supplies the heavy fabricated structural steel components machined to very tight tolerances that is assembled and integrated into a shippable pedestal. This allows for critical checks of fit and function prior to shipment where corrective action can be implemented if need be to resolve a problem prior to shipment. Logistics and resources associated with performing this work onsite in Chile would be cost prohibitive and very inefficient.”

“SATCOM Technologies’ German facility ships some components to Kilgore for integration into the pedestal assembly, but the majority of their supplied components ship directly to Chile after undergoing various phases of integration and testing in Germany. Of most significance are the primary and secondary reflector components and the state of the art antenna positioning control system. The Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) Backup Structure and Quadrapod in addition to highly machined reflector aluminum panels and subreflector form the building blocks for the reflective surfaces. Closely coordinated logistics throughout the entire supply chain is critical. Shipments from the U.S. and Germany must arrive in Chile in time to support the final onsite assembly and testing efforts that ultimately results in the finished product.”

“SATCOM Technologies has reached an unprecedented level of radio telescope design and manufacturing sophistication,” Schrader added. “Our ability to produce, ship, and assemble on site these complex antenna structures underscores our leadership in this expanding technology.”

ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), operated by AUI (Associated Universities, Inc.) for the National Science Foundation. ALMA is a partnership between North America (the United States, Canada and Taiwan), Europe, and Japan, in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.

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