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MOU launches STARGATE and NRAO collaboration to spur innovation

Dr. Fredrick A. Jenet, CARA Director, left, and Dr. Tony Beasley, NRAO Director

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 9, 2015 – The Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at The University of Texas Brownsville and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Friday, Jan. 23 in Charlottesville, Va.

The purpose of the MOU is to lay the groundwork for the two entities to collaborate on new initiatives and frontier radio astronomical technologies.

The collaboration is designed to foster leading-edge research and development at both NRAO’s Central Development Laboratory, where some of the world’s most sophisticated radio astronomy technologies are engineered, and STARGATE (Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission), a public-private partnership at CARA, to develop new radio frequency-based technologies for a wide range of academic and commercial applications.

STARGATE was conceived by Dr. Fredrick A. Jenet, CARA Director and Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, as a partnership between CARA and SpaceX, a private aerospace company headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif. The mission of STARGATE is to foster the spirit of Silicon Valley in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

A cooperative effort with SpaceX to develop and support commercialization of phased-array technology for satellite and space vehicle communication, STARGATE is the first research center of excellence for The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The new UT Rio Grande Valley, which will span the entire region and be home to a school of medicine, is being formed by consolidating the assets and resources of UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College and nearby University of Texas – Pan American.

“There are obvious opportunities for NRAO and STARGATE to share knowledge and experience so both organizations can innovate and lead on these highly specialized, highly advanced technologies,” Jenet said. “I am thrilled to work with the entire team at NRAO, which is world-renowned for its engineering capabilities.”

Numerous communications and radio technologies proposed by STARGATE share similar engineering constraints with the radio astronomy components developed by NRAO, according to Jenet. These overlapping design challenges and opportunities paved the way for the two organizations to work together.

Initial areas of collaboration, according to the MOU, will focus on “large interferometric arrays, with special emphasis on phased array receiver systems,” technologies leading to joint observational research programs in areas such as pulsar studies, spectroscopic observations of various interstellar atoms and molecules, and other forefront astronomical observations.

Additionally, this collaboration will jointly explore the development of novel spacecraft tracking and location techniques for both Earth-orbit and interplanetary missions.

“NRAO instruments have been used routinely to track spacecraft with unprecedented precision,” Jenet said. “Knowing the location of these spacecraft is essential for a number of scientific research projects as well as guiding distance spacecraft, such as New Horizons, with pinpoint accuracy to objects in the farthest reaches of our solar system.”

The MOU also enables NRAO and CARA to team up on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education initiatives and to hold joint workshops on topics of common interest.

“Sharing similar goals makes this collaboration an obvious benefit for both our organizations,” said Dr. Tony Beasley, NRAO Director. “We look forward to working together and achieving some very lofty goals.”

About the National Radio Astronomy Observatory

The NRAO is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. The NRAO collaborates with the university astronomy community to develop new instrumentation and technology, and helps train the next generation of scientists through its student, co-op, postdoctoral, and Fellowship programs.

Media Contact:
Letty Fernandez, UTRGV Director of Media Relations