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The United States and Canada intend to collaborate on two of the most
important radio astronomy projects of the new century — the Atacama
Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA),
astronomers from both countries announced today.

“This cooperative program — the North American Partnership in Radio
Astronomy — involves the key projects that will dominate radio astronomy
world-wide,” said Paul Vanden Bout, director of the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “This partnership will multiply the efforts
of both nations’ astronomers for the benefit of science. It builds on a
long tradition of cooperative efforts in radio astronomy, and will ensure
that we continue that tradition into the new millennium,” Vanden Bout said.

The U.S.-Canada radio astronomy partnership is outlined in two letters of
intent signed recently. The first, between the U.S. National Science
Foundation (NSF) and Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), states
that both agencies will use their best efforts to obtain the necessary
funding for construction and operation of ALMA. The second, between the
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, funded by the NSF, and the Herzberg
Institute of Astrophysics, funded by the NRC, forms a partnership in
the EVLA.

The VLA Expansion Project is a two-phase program designed to improve the
scientific capabilities of the VLA tenfold by replacing 1970s-vintage
equipment with modern technologies and adding new radio-telescope antennas
to the existing 27-antenna array. Dedicated in 1980, the VLA has been used
for more than 10,000 observing projects covering nearly every area of
astrophysics. It is the most powerful, flexible and widely-used radio
telescope in the world. The Expanded VLA will provide the improved
observational capabilities needed to meet the research challenges of
the coming years. In addition to the participation by Canada, funds
have been pledged by Mexico. Both Mexico and Germany have funded VLA
improvements in the past. A proposal to the NSF requesting U.S. funds
for the EVLA is currently under review by the National Science Foundation.

The agreement between the NRAO and the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics
(HIA) calls for HIA to build a new correlator — the digital “heart” that
combines the received signals from multiple antennas to make those antennas
work as a single, powerful telescope — for the EVLA. The new correlator
will represent a contribution of $10 million (US$). The full EVLA project
will cost about $150 million, to be done in two phases, the first costing
$75 million.

“Canada has a strong program of radio astronomy, and in particular a skilled
team of specialists in designing correlators, and we are pleased to have
their talents directed toward building a new machine for the VLA,” Vanden
Bout said.

ALMA will consist of 64 12-meter-diameter dish antennas comprising a single
imaging telescope to study the universe at millimeter and submillimeter
wavelengths — the region between radio waves and infrared waves. An
international project being designed and developed by the U.S. and European
nations, ALMA will be located on a high-altitude site in the Atacama
desert of Chile.

“ALMA will give scientists an unprecedented look at the structure of the
early universe and revolutionary insights on how stars and planets form,
among many other contributions,” Vanden Bout said. “The EVLA will bring
unmatched power and versatility to the study of objects as close as the
Sun and planets and as far as primeval galaxies at the edge of the
observable universe. Together, these two instruments will be at the
forefront of 21st Century astrophysics,” he added.

“ALMA has been a bilateral project involving the United States and Europe.
These new agreements with Canada turn ALMA into a partnership between
Europe and North America,” Vanden Bout said.

Design and development work on ALMA has been ongoing since 1998, funded
by the NSF and European organizations. Canadians already have participated
in this work. ALMA is planned for completion this decade. The new partnership
calls for Canada to seek funding for a $20 million (US$) contribution
toward construction of ALMA. The total construction cost of ALMA is $552
million (2000 US$), to be shared equally between Europe and North America.

Under both letters of intent, applications for observing time on ALMA and
NRAO radio telescopes, including the VLA, the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA),
and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), from Canadian scientists will be treated
the same as applications from U.S. scientists. Also, Canadian scientists
will be appointed to NRAO advisory and oversight committees, and U.S.
scientists will be appointed to similar Canadian committees.

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