Reach for the stars

General Dynamics has been awarded $169 million to design and deliver 25, 12-metre antennas for the North American portion of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array project, an international astronomy facility.


General Dynamics C4 Systems has been awarded a $169 million contract by Associated Universities Inc (AUI) to design, manufacture and deliver 25, 12-metre antennas for the North American portion of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) project, an international astronomy facility.



ALMA‘s primary goal is to provide a radio telescope array that will allow scientists to observe and image galaxies out to the edge of the universe, and stars and planets in their formative stages with unprecedented clarity.



An international collaborative effort to build and operate the world’s most sensitive millimetre and sub-millimetre wavelength telescope, ALMA ultimately could consist of an array of up to 64 antennas, and an additional compact array supplied by Japan, all in Chile‘s Atacama Desert, 16,500 feet above sea level.



The sky above the site has the clarity and stability essential for the required level of imaging fidelity. The antennas will work together as one telescope to provide a spatial resolution 10 times higher than the Hubble Space Telescope.



“Imaging qualities and the ability to change the configuration of the antennas will make ALMA astronomy’s most versatile imaging instrument,” said Gary Kanipe, the General Dynamics C4 Systems vice president responsible for the program.



Millimetre and submillimetre-wave astronomy is the study of the universe in the spectral region between what is traditionally considered radio waves and infrared radiation. In this realm, ALMA will study the structure of the early universe and the evolution of galaxies; gather crucial data on the formation of stars and planets; and provide new insights on our own solar system.



The first antenna is scheduled for delivery in 2007 with final delivery of all the antennas expected by the end of 2011. Pre-assembly work on the contract will be done at General Dynamics C4 Systems’ Kilgore, Texas, and Duisburg, Germany, facilities.


Previously, in February 2000, Vertex Antenna Systems was awarded a contract by AUI to build one of two antenna prototypes. This business was acquired by General Dynamics in September 2004.