A Digital Highway to ALMA
Contract signed for new fibre optic connection to observatory
13 November 2012
New network infrastructure that will allow the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) observatory to increase its data transmission capacity by more than 25 times begins construction today. A contract between Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), on behalf of ALMA , and two Chilean companies: Silica Networks Chile S.A. and Telefónica Empresas Chile S.A. has been signed.
"This long-term structural solution not only has the advantage of being able to convey much more data, it could also allow us to operate some of the observatory activities from Santiago," says Jorge Ibsen, Head of the ALMA Department of Computing.
The new system involves the installation of about 150 kilometres of fibre optic cable between the observatory (34 kilometres from San Pedro de Atacama) and the town of Calama. From there data will flow via existing communication links to the academic network REUNA in Antofagasta. The link from there to the ALMA offices in Santiago will use infrastructure created in 2010 by EVALSO, a project co-funded by the European Commission and operated by REUNA that already provides connectivity for ESO’s observatory at Paranal, among others (see eso1043 for more about EVALSO). The fibre project is managed by Giorgio Filippi, from ESO, who is seconded to the Joint ALMA Observatory.
This new digital highway, which will be operational in 2014, will not only handle the transfer of the enormous quantities of data that ALMA will produce when fully built, but it will also allow for better communication between those operating the observatory from the remote and hostile location in the Atacama Desert, and those processing the data at the ALMA offices in Santiago, as well as the scientific community throughout the world.
"Taking advantage of Chile’s development in digital connectivity, ALMA is moving towards substantially improving the connections from the remote observatory in the Atacama Desert to the rest of the world" says Jorge Ibsen, adding "this new link will provide substantial benefits to ALMA operations and enable it to produce even more science."
Construction work for ALMA will be completed in 2013, when a total of 66 high-precision antennas will be operating on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes, at an altitude of 5000 metres. At the moment, the telescope is in its initial phase of Early Science Observations. Even though construction is not yet complete, the telescope is already producing outstanding results, outperforming all other submillimetre arrays.
 Procurements for the observatory are split between the ALMA partners, and AUI is the representative of the North American ALMA partner.
ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.
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