The arriving dark age: Due to the extent of its recent cable failures and the risks they pose to works, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to shuttered and dismantle it permanently.
Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s astronomy division, said at the briefing the agency wants to preserve other instruments at the site, as well as the visitor and outreach center. But they are under threat if the telescope structure collapses. That would bring the 900-ton instrument platform, suspended 137 meters above the 305-meter wide dish, crashing down. Flailing cables could damage other buildings on the site, as could the three support towers if they fell, too. “There is a serious risk of an unexpected and uncontrolled collapse,” Gaume said. “A controlled decommissioning gives us the opportunity to preserve valuable assets that the observatory has.”
Over the next few weeks, engineering firms will develop a plan for a controlled dismantling. It may involve releasing the platform from its cables explosively and letting it fall.
The radio telescope was built in the early 1960s, and for many years was the world’s largest single dish radio telescope. It has struggled however in recent years with both financial and infrastructure problems, the latter initially caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
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