PROPOSED DURATION: 24 months (Proposed Start Date 10/01/2021 )


In this proposal, Associated Universities Inc. (manager of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Green Bank Observatory) and Raytheon Technologies, Inc. request MSRI-1 support for a program of integrated technical design activities that will lead to important new scientific and space domain awareness (SDA) radar capabilities for the United States (US). Specifically, we will develop detailed conceptual designs for (a) a high-power high frequency phased-array radar transmitter for the Green Bank Telescope, and (b) a medium-power phased-array modular transmitter system for deployment on antennas under design for the next-generation Very Large Array. Following successful community technical review of these conceptual designs, additional proposals to develop key technologies, prototype and construct both transmitter systems are anticipated.

Intellectual Merit

High-power (10-100s of kW) radar observations provide unique information about natural solar system objects (e.g. planets, near-Earth asteroids and other nearby objects) and human activities in space (including spacecraft structure, performance and navigation, both near and beyond Earth). Historically, U.S. radar infrastructure (involving a handful of major radio astronomy and deep-space federal facilities) was the most significant contributor to the field, however recent events have negatively impacted these research capabilities. New technical directions and operational approaches have been identified in recent years, and discussed as part of the ongoing Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey – including the use of more powerful transmitters and flexible phased-array transmit hardware systems, and utilizing arrays of antennas both as transmitting sources and as mono/bi/multi-static receiving elements. A new high-power high-frequency transmitter placed in the focal plane of the Green Bank Telescope will increase the volume of our radar research capabilities in the solar system by an order of magnitude relative to recent capabilities, and powerful antenna array-based transmit/receive radar functionality promises increased sensitivity and operational readiness for solar system and near-Earth studies. These new observational capabilities for the US research and space domain awareness communities will be transformational across multiple scientific disciplines.

Broader Impacts

The design of the new radar transmitter technologies will be utilized by the NRAO/GBO and Raytheon to drive intentional broader impact projects focused on broadening participation by under-represented minorities (URM) and the general public in radar astronomy and related STEM fields. The NRAO will leverage existing programs implemented by its Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) and Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Departments to create research and training experiences for URM students at NRAO/GBO and Raython Technology Inc. facilities; and develop, prototype and distribute middle and high school science lesson plans and multimedia public outreach materials. The new technologies also have the potential to drive advances in US planetary defense capabilities, technology transfer and commercialization, and positive socio-economic benefits for local communities surrounding observing facilities. The radar systems arising from these new designs will significantly advance U.S. capabilities in the planetary defense arena. The radar capabilities designed here, if realized, will greatly amplify our national and international research efforts to understand the risks to humanity from such celestial encounters. Near-Earth surveillance interests will also be greatly enhanced by these capabilities.


Funded. Trade studies are underway to complete the Concept Design Review (CoDR) report for goal (a) a high-power high frequency phased-array radar transmitter for the Green Bank Telescope, by end of 2023.