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Arecibo Observatory to be Led by UCF Consortium

Photonics.com
Mar 2018
ARECIBO, Puerto Rico, March 17, 2018 — The Arecibo Observatory, the largest fully operational radio telescope in the world, will soon be under new management.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Courtesy of Arecibo Observatory.

A consortium led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) will start formal transition activities to take on the management of the National Science Foundation's (NSF’s) observatory in Arecibo. NSF is negotiating the operations and management award with UCF. With its partners, Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan and Yang Enterprises Inc. in Oviedo, Fla., the team plans to expand the capabilities of the telescope, which has made significant contributions to science. The 18-acre reflector also was featured in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye." 

"UCF's oversight of this crucial resource further solidifies our university as a leader in space-related research," said John Hitt, president of UCF. "The observatory will provide a valuable new dimension to space science at UCF while creating more academic opportunities for students and faculty at UCF, in Puerto Rico and beyond. Our lead role with the observatory deepens central Florida's strong ties with our fellow citizens on the island. This agreement, made possible through partnerships, also ensures that the observatory will continue to make significant contributions to space science and mankind."

The agreement is valued at $20.15 million, subject to the availability of funds, over five years and is scheduled to begin April 1.

"This is a win-win-win," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who supported UCF's bid to manage Arecibo and recently helped secure funding in Congress to repair damage to the telescope caused by Hurricane Maria. "It's good for UCF and Florida, it's good for Puerto Rico and it will enable thousands of scientists who do research at Arecibo each year to continue their work."

The new agreement means the Arecibo Observatory will continue to offer scientists from around the world an opportunity to pursue radio astronomy, atmospheric science and planetary radar research. The consortium, calling itself Arecibo Observatory Management Team, also ensures that the observatory will continue to track potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

"Universidad Metropolitana is proud to be a partner in this new project for the Arecibo Observatory," said Chancellor Carlos M. Padin, who oversees the nonprofit institution of higher learning part of the Ana G. Méndez University System. "We are confident this partnership will expand the opportunities for research, as well as formal and informal STEM education in Puerto Rico."

The university's role is focused on public outreach and engagement through formal and informal education. This partnership is an opportunity to help create a pipeline for students to study space sciences both in Puerto Rico and central Florida by providing hands-on opportunities at the observatory.

The NSF has been funding part of Arecibo Observatory's operations since the 1970s. Starting in 2010, NSF received input on the priorities for its scientific operations through the National Academies 6th Decadal Survey, the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review Committee Report, and the NSF Geospace Sciences Portfolio Review Committee Report.

Based on that input, the NSF examined the options for continuing Arecibo Observatory operations. After extensive environmental-impact analysis and input from the public and the scientific community, the NSF decided to continue operations and put out a request for proposals to manage and operate the observatory. The move allows important research to continue while accommodating the agency's budgetary constraints and its core mission to support cutting-edge science and education.

"The Arecibo Observatory Management Team represents an excellent realization of the preferred alternative of the National Science Foundation," said Richard Green, NSF's division director for astronomy. "We have confidence that the new partnership will promote astronomical science and ionospheric research investigations with vitality. It will also create expanded opportunities for education and training, all priorities for our continuing investment in a productive facility like Arecibo Observatory. Additionally, the recently approved Congressional legislation for hurricane relief provides substantial resources for the restoration of the observatory to its pre-hurricane functionality."

BusinessArecibo ObservatoryNational Science FoundationUniversity of Central FloridaUCFNSFUniversidad MetropolitanaYang EnterprisesAmericas

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