RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE SPECIAL PROJECTS: ADVANCES IN HIGH ANGULAR RESOLUTION INTERFEROMETRY - VLBA-PR (NSF Proposal Number 2129458)
MOST RELEVANT NSF DIRECTORATE/DIVISION: AST
COLLABORATIVE PROPOSAL: NRAO/VLBA and University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez
PROPOSED DURATION: 36 months (Proposed Start Date 10/01/2021)
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM), the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and the University of Central Florida/Arecibo Observatory (UCF/AO) have formed a collaboration to use ngVLA technology to add an important new antenna in Puerto Rico to the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) – VLBA-PR. This antenna will greatly enhance the scientific and astrometric capabilities of the VLBA, and explore new concepts in radio astronomy and radar research and calibration. In Puerto Rico, this project will improve the research competitiveness of the PR engineering and academic communities, training a new generation of students via hands-on experience with leading-edge research infrastructure and internships. The construction and commissioning of this antenna as an element of the VLBA will foster new collaborations between NRAO, AO and the PR university community, which will both enrich VLBA/ngVLA science, and position PR students and scientists to participate strongly in future projects such as ngVLA, and a larger receive/transmit array of antennas at AO.
VLBA-PR will enhance the VLBA’s scientific capabilities in studies of active galactic nuclei, molecular gas in star-formation regions, exploring the transient universe (following up on multi-wavelength detections of high-variable objects by other telescopes, including LIGO and the Rubin Observatory), and improve the realization of the celestial/terrestrial reference frames for use in national geodetic and astrometric efforts. Observing at frequency of 15 GHz, the antenna will also function as a pathfinder for the ngVLA program, enabling a number of key technology tests which will reduce technical risk, such as long-baseline stability tests with the prototype antenna at the VLA site, and the development of phase calibration strategies for baseline bootstrapping with the St. Croix VLBA site. The antenna can also be used as a platform for tropospheric calibration strategy development, ensuring that the solutions developed on the ngVLA prototype at the VLA site remain applicable over a range of environments. The location of VLBA-PR also has the potential to be the pivotal link between VLBI antennas in the northern and southern hemispheres, creating unprecedented baselines; as well as to improve global security by supporting efforts to track and characterize near-Earth objects for planetary defense. VLBA-PR can also function as a pathfinder/initial component for another concept under development by this collaboration, an array of eight receive/transmit antennas based at AO (AO-8). VLBA-PR will be a unique development platform for phased array of radar transmit antennas; the station may eventually be fully converted into an element of AO-8 if that project moves forward, operating periodically as an element of the VLBA/ngVLA Long Baseline Array, and potentially as part of a radar transmitter array.
The primary focus of our Broader Impact plans is to create new partnerships between academia and industry for the development of the diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce required to plan, design, prototype, construct, commission and operate the VLBA-PR antenna, and subsequent next generation of radio astronomy interferometric instruments. Our plan includes activities that will enhance engineering, radio astronomy, planetary science and high-throughput computing research infrastructure at UPRM; improve STEM educator and UPRM faculty development; broaden the participation of underrepresented minorities, particularly Hispanic or Latino women, in engineering, science and technical activities; and improve the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of radio astronomy, AO and VLBA-PR. This project will continue Puerto Rico’s strong legacy in radio astronomy, planetary radar and SETI; construction, operation and maintenance of the antenna will see direct investment in Puerto Rico through procurement and the employment of technical staff; and improved AO site infrastructure and services will increase the AO’s potential to attract other research infrastructure to the site.