Iconic Arecibo radio telescope saved by university consortium

Source: Science Magazine

 A consortium led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando will take over management of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, home to one of the world’s largest radio telescope, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Alexandria, Virginia, announced today. NSF has been looking for another body to take over the running of the iconic facility ever since a 2006 review suggested the agency ramp down its funding to free up money for newer projects.

“We’re delighted that there are signatures on paper,” says Richard Green, director of NSF’s astronomical sciences division. “That’s a fabulous moment at the end of a long process.” NSF now spends $8 million a year to run Arecibo, with NASA pitching in another $3.6 million. Under the agreement signed today, by 1 October 2022, NSF’s contribution will shrink to $2 million per year, with the UCF consortium making up the difference. UCF will complete the takeover as operator on 1 April, although an agreement detailing the transfer of funds must still be finalized, says James Ulvestad, NSF’s chief officer for scientific facilities.

UCF has teamed up with the Metropolitan University in San Juan and Yang Enterprises in Oviedo, Florida, a company that has NASA and U.S. Air Force contracts to operate and maintain facilities. Ray Lugo, head of UCF’s Florida Space Institute, says the consortium hopes to bring in new users to contribute toward costs. He says the U.S. Department of Defense may want to use Arecibo to test sensors, while space mining companies may want to scope out target asteroids. “We want to bring other customers to the table,” he says. The consortium also wants to expand the telescope’s scientific capabilities, in part by upgrading equipment as repairs are carried out in the wake of damage suffered during following Hurricane Maria.