ATA Un-Hibernation

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September 07, 2011

As you may know the Allen Telescope Array (the ATA) went into hibernation on April 15, 2011 due to lack of funds. A sad day indeed.

But, thanks to the kind donations from supporters of SETIStars and the space surveillance desires of the United States Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) , the ATA is now in the process of exiting its hibernation. We started the process just this week.

I arrived this week with my colleagues Gerry Harp and John Ross, both from The SETI Institute to begin the work.

I saw a mower amongst the dishes

When I arrived this morning I first saw something that I haven't seen in almost 5 months; the grass being mowed! I saw the mower snaking around the far antennas. Since the ATA went into hibernation the grass has not been mowed. Actually, it is not grass, it is weeds. The stickery kind that stick to your socks and shoes and take forever to pick out. I'm glad to see the mower.

We need to "bring the ATA out of hibernation" because the ATA is a complex and sophisticated instrument that is not meant to be in hibernation. It needs to be constantly tuned, or things stop working. 5 months is a long time for such a place to go without maintenance.

The mower - or rather a tractor - doing what needs to be done

Each antenna needs to be checked. Gears need to be greased. Each antenna feed contains a dewar which cools the internal low noise amplifier down to 62 degrees Kelvin. That is -348 degrees Fahrenheit, or -211 Celsius. Occasionally the dewar leaks or fails, and and the feed has to be removed and sent back to the factory for repair. Today 4 antennas had their feeds removed and they should be back from the shop sometime in October.

I observed the removing of some of the antenna feeds. This is how it went:

Power was removed from the feed by unplugging the RIM Box


The case structure was mounted around the feed
The case enclosed the feed. Bolts are then removed.
The feed - with PAX box - pulled out and ready for the factory


And the rest of the day was meetings! Tomorrow we will be performing more maintenance and checking out the computer systems.