ALMA opens up the skies for UK industry

June 24, 2003

UK industry is well positioned to benefit from contract opportunities with one of the world's leading astronomical institutes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

A range of contracts across the fields of adaptive optics, radio frequency systems, electrical and communications, software and computer technology, cryogenics, mechanical and engineering and others will be available for UK companies to compete for. Many of the potential contract opportunities are directed towards the construction of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), a network of 64 12-metre telescopes to be located at an altitude of 5,000m in the Chilean desert, due for completion by 2012. ESO related contract opportunities will also become available for the next generation of ground based optical telescopes, for example, the Over-Whelmingly Large Telescope (OWL), currently in the concept stage, and enhancement of existing telescope instrumentation and infrastructure.

The UK joined ESO in June 2002 giving UK astronomers further access to ESO's cutting-edge telescope facilities as well a major stake in future developments. The UK's annual subscription to ESO is paid by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).

Professor Richard Wade, PPARC's Director of Programmes said:

"By joining ESO the UK has not only provided astronomers with further access to world class facilities but has opened a real opportunity from which industry can benefit. UK industry is well placed to compete for technological contracts at ESO. By successfully bidding for contracts industry will be bringing further returns back into the UK economy. PPARC is keen to encourage UK industry and is doing all it can to help make UK industry aware of these opportunities."

ALMA, in which the UK is a major partner, will be the largest telescope ever constructed and will operate at radio frequencies up to 1 terahertz. The signals from each of the 64 antennas will be combined in a dedicated computer called a correlator, a technique known as interferometry, to produce images of celestial sources in fine detail.

The telescope will be used to probe the cold universe, looking in particular at the origins of stars, planets and galaxies.

Professor Brian Ellison, UK's ALMA Project Manager said: "To date, UK institutions have been heavily involved in the Phase 1 development of technologies for ALMA. As we move into Phase 2 construction, significant opportunities will arise for UK industrial opportunities, in consort with UK institutes, PPARC and ESO, in a wide variety of related construction tasks. Whilst the largest contracts will be for the antennas, there will be numerous other areas in which UK will be able to bid for, with the pre-production opportunities likely to be forthcoming towards the end of the year.

Dr John Richer, the UK's Project Scientist for ALMA, said:

"The UK's astronomers are eagerly anticipating the exciting scientific opportunities that ALMA will present them with, allowing them to make the first detailed images of star and planet formation in our galaxy, and of the origins of galaxies in the distant Universe. The scientific goals of ALMA demand a very high level of performance from all aspects of the system, and the opportunity for UK industry to take a vital role in some of these systems is to be welcomed."

Ian Stagg, PPARC's Industrial Liaison Officer said:

"A very strong response from UK industry is expected following this announcement and Trade Partners UK will be encouraging British firms to participate in a trade mission to ESO in the autumn."
To find out more about the trade mission and forthcoming contract opportunities, please contact PPARC's Industrial Liaison Officer Ian Stagg. Tel: 01208 851581. Email: or Professor Brian Ellison, UK ALMA Project Manager. Tel: 01235 446719 Email:

Additional Contacts:

Ian Stagg - PPARC Industrial Liaison Co-ordinator
Tel: 01208-851581 Email:

Professor Brian Ellison - UK ALMA Project Manager
Space Science and Technology Development, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: 01235 446719. Email:

Dr John Richer - UK ALMA Project Scientist
Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge
Tel: 01223 337246. Email:

ESO Education and Public Relations Department
D-85748 Garching bei Muenchen

Head of Department - Dr Richard West -

Secretariat - Ms Elisabeth Voelk -

Media support and Exhibitions - Mr Claus Madsen -

For an image of ALMA please contact Gill Ormrod in the PPARC Press Office. Tel: 01793 442012. Email: There are also images on the web sites listed below.

Web Sites
UK ALMA home page -

ESO ALMA home page -



Background Notes:

1. One hundred and fiftteen representatives from a broad range of industrial sectors attended a seminar organised by ESO and PPARC on Monday 16th June held at CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The seminar provided an introduction to ESO and ALMA plus information about forthcoming contracts and procurement procedures at ESO, and the opportunities to meet key project personnel from the UK and ESO.

2. In joining ESO, UK astronomers have gained access to the four 8.2-metre telescopes that comprise the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and to the several 1.8-metre telescopes that make up the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI); These facilities are located in the northern part of the Atacama desert in Chile. They also have access to two 4-metre class telescopes and several smaller ones at the ESO La Silla observatory further south in Chile.

The UK will benefit from increased involvement in the design, construction and scientific discoveries of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), a network of 64 twelve-metre radio telescopes also to be sited in Chile, and will have the opportunity to play a defining

The 4-metre Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope (VISTA) forms part of the UK entry contribution to ESO. It is a specialised wide-angle facility equipped with a powerful camera of novel design and efficient detectors that will enable it to obtain deep images of large sky areas in short time. These survey observations will be made in several wavebands in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, with the capability of adding a visible region camera later. VISTA will be installed at the ESO Paranal Observatory (Chile).

3. ESO is the intergovernmental European research organisation for Astronomy. It is supported by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. More countries are expected to join during the next years. ESO operates observational facilities at two sites. It runs the world's prime optical/infrared astronomical facility, the Very Large Telescope Array (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory. Located 130 km south of Antofagasta, this 2,600 m high mountain is in the driest part of the Atacama desert. The VLT consists of four 8.2-metre and several 1.8-metre telescopes. These telescopes can be used in combination as a unique, giant interferometer (VLTI). In addition, ESO operates the La Silla observatory, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile, at 2,400m altitude where state-of-the-art medium-sized telescopes are in operation. More than 1300 proposals are made each year for the use of the ESO telescopes. The ESO Headquarters are located in Garching, near Munich, Germany. This is the scientific, technical and administrative centre of ESO where technical development programmes are carried out to provide the observatories with the most advanced instruments. There are also extensive astronomical data facilities. ESO has a total staff of 500 and an annual budget of approximately 100 million €.

4.The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science. PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank observatory.

Science and Technology Facilities Council

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