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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory

Christine M. Matthews
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory is a radio and radar telescope located in Barrio Esperanza, Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Arecibo Observatory is managed, operated, and maintained by SRI International, under contract with the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2005-2006, NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) conducted a Senior Review of its portfolio of facilities. Among other things, the Senior Review was to identify potential reinvestment in the highest priority existing programs in AST and restructure the operational efficiency of the existing facilities. The Review reported that the scientific value of the Arecibo was modest when compared to other existing and proposed projects and recommended decreasing the telescope’s annual $12.0 million budget to $9.0 million in FY2009, and securing partnerships for the remaining necessary funding. If alternate funding sources or partnerships could not be obtained by 2011, the Review recommended dismantling the facility.

In February 2011, a report of the Senior Review estimated that closure of the Arecibo could approach $88.0 million, approximately eight times its current operating cost. The Review determined that AST should carefully examine the priorities of continuing to operate older facilities while simultaneously transitioning to newer facilities. The issue before the 112th Congress is whether the Arecibo is more cost-effective than replacing it with newer, available technology.

In June 2011, NSF announced that it awarded a $42.0 million, five-year contract to SRI international to manage, operate, and maintain the Arecibo. SRI International will partner with the Universities Research Association, the Universidad Metropolitana, San Juan, and the University of Puerto Rico. The Arecibo will, among other things, expand its research on the study of the ionosphere, the remains of imploded stars, and also search within and beyond the Milky Way for asteroids and pulsars.

The Administration’s FY2013 budget request for the Arecibo in the NSF totals $8.2 million, the FY2012 estimate is $8.7 million. Requested funding for the Arecibo Observatory in the FY2013 request includes $5.0 million from the AST, and $3.2 million from the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS).

Date of Report: February 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R40437
Price: $29.95

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