Very Large Array working with UNM on major expansion project

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Earlier this summer, a $2 billion expansion at the Very Large Array was announced.

“It’s a new frontier in science observations, for sure,” said Eric Murphy, project scientist for the Next Generation VLA (ngVLA) and NRAO astronomer.

The ngVLA will expand the number of antennas from 27 to 160, and add hundreds of jobs to the area.

“The idea would be to really you know, continue in New Mexico to be a world center for radio astronomy, and build out a new science and data center,” Murphy said.

Now, the University of New Mexico is in on it.

“Rather than partnering with universities outside the state to build out and operate that instrument, they want to partner with UNM to do that,” said Christopher Lippitt, associate dean for research at the UNM College of Arts and Sciences.

UNM signed a memorandum showing the potential they have to collaborate on this project with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

“We’ll be exploring the possibility of getting their science team – which is expected to be about 200 PhD radio astronomers – here physically on campus, so that our students and faculty are working with them day in and day out,” Lippitt said.

The National Science Foundation recently gave them $21 million to advance a 3- to 5-year design process.

“They’re currently working to build the first prototype antenna,” Lippit said.

Once the design is approved and Congress approves the funds, construction will begin. That is set for 2028.

“At that point, we will continue to operate the VLA in some form or another to continue critical science operations until the point where we can actually turn the new facility on and achieve similar capabilities,” Murphy said.

Until then, you can still visit the VLA and see it at work.