The National Science Board, the governing body for the National
Science Foundation (NSF), has approved an expansion project for
Very Large Array (VLA)
radio telescope in New Mexico. The
board recommended an NSF award of approximately $58.3 million for
the project over the next decade. The action came at the Board’s
meeting in Washington on Nov. 15.

“This approval means that the VLA, already the most scientifically
productive ground-based telescope in all of astronomy, will remain
at the cutting edge of astrophysical research through the coming
decades,” said Paul Vanden Bout, director of the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

The expansion project will replace aging equipment left over from
the VLA’s construction during the 1970s with modern technology,
improving the VLA’s scientific capabilities more than tenfold.
Using the existing 27 dish antennas, each weighing 230 tons, the
Expanded VLA will have greatly improved ability to image distant
celestial objects and to decipher the physical nature of those

In addition to the $58.3 million NSF allocation, the governments of
Canada and Mexico plan to provide funding for the VLA expansion.

VLA Expansion Project
was formally proposed to the NSF, which
owns the VLA, last year. Also last year, the project received a strong
endorsement from the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee of
the National Research Council, the working arm of the National Academies
of Sciences and Engineering. That committee had been given the task of
setting nationwide priorities for astronomy spending over the next

The Survey Committee report listed the Expanded VLA as an important
contributor to new understanding in three high-priority research areas
for the next decade: studies of star and planet formation; research
into black holes; and unraveling details about the “dawn of the modern

Dedicated in 1980, the VLA is the most powerful, flexible and widely-
used radio telescope in the world. It brought dramatically-improved
observational capabilities to the scientific community two decades
ago, and has
contributed significantly to nearly every branch of
. More than 2,200 scientists have used the VLA for more than
10,000 separate observing projects. Astronomers seek more than twice
as much VLA observing time than can be provided.

Since the VLA’s dedication, many technical improvements have made it
much more capable than its original design contemplated. However,
some of the technologies incorporated into the VLA during its
construction, while highly advanced for their time, now limit its
capabilities. The VLA Expansion Project will replace those older
technologies with modern technology, allowing the VLA to realize
its full potential as a tool for scientific research.

“Keeping the VLA at the forefront of technology is an important
priority, and we are fortunate that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) has
recognized this for many years. We appreciate his longtime
support for this valuable scientific facility,” Vanden Bout said.
“Senator Domenici is one of the VLA’s strongest advocates, and
as a leader in the U.S. Senate, has continually supported the
VLA and its expansion in Congress and the Federal Government,”
Vanden Bout added.

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