The competition heats up: The Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, having lost most of its government funding, has switched to a private model where they compete for customers on the open market.
[T]hey petitioned to retain a fraction of NSF funding and make up the difference with private contracts—a model then unheard of. Eventually, the NSF agreed to fund about 60 percent of Green Bank’s operations in 2017, tapering to 30 percent in 2018.
To add cash flow to that federal tributary, Green Bankers had to nail down private contracts. The 140-foot telescope, home to the biggest ball bearing in the world, will download data from the Russian Space Agency’s on-orbit radio telescope, RadioAstron, which will also hook up with the newer telescope to form a high-resolution array. The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves has commissioned the flagship Green Bank Telescope to watch their network of pulsars for fingerprints of gravitational waves.
And Breakthrough Listen—a search for extraterrestrial intelligence—will look for the technological fingerprints of aliens. The project, funded by rich-guy Yuri Milner, will watch the sky 1,300 hours a year, debiting $2 million from Milner annually and depositing it into Green Bank’s coffers.
In other words, they are marketing the telescope to the open market, selling time to use it to whoever has a need. And apparently, there is a need, though I suspect operations at the telescope will have to become leaner and meaner and more efficient to stay in the black. Which is to the good.