Alcatel Alenia Space has signed a 147 million euro contract with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to supply twenty-five antennas for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) project.
The ALMA project is aimed at setting up an array of radio-telescopes to study the origins of galaxies and the formation of stars from Chile. When completed, ALMA will be the largest and most capable imaging array of telescopes in the world. The project is an international partnership between Europe, North America and Japan, in collaboration with Chile. ALMA will enable the most sensitive radio-telescope network in the world to collect information in millimetric and sub-millimetric wavelengths. All of these antennas will work together as if they were a single telescope, using the interferometry principle to provide spatial resolution ten times better than the Hubble space telescope.
The contract covers the design, manufacture, transport and on-site integration of the twenty-five 12-meter (39-feet) wide antennas in the Atacama desert in Northern Chile.
The project started with the manufacture and validation of three prototype antennas, operating in the 30 to 950 GHz bandwidths, delivered respectively by the United States, Europe and Japan. Following the scientific evaluation of the prototype provided by Europe, Alcatel Alenia Space signed a contract for the supply of twenty-five antennas and their installation in Chajnantor, at an altitude of 5,000 meters (about 16,400 ft) on the Atacama desert in Chile. The deployment will last until 2011.
The ALMA project is a very daunting technical challenge, since the antenna surface accuracy must be within 25 microns, the pointing accuracy within 0.6 arc seconds, and the antennas must be able to be moved over a distance of 10 kilometers, and offer Sun-sighting capability. The observation array will cover more than 7,000 square meters (about 75,600 sq ft).