Lunar and Planetary Institute
Lunar and Planetary Institute


USRA Part of Team Selected to Manage Arecibo Observatory

July 1, 2011
Source: USRA

Arecibo ObservatoryThe Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is part of a multi-organization team led by SRI International that has been awarded a five-year cooperative agreement by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to manage, operate, and maintain the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The observatory, preeminent for its research in astronomy, planetary studies, and space and atmospheric sciences, is the world’s largest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope. The award, valued at approximately $42M, is scheduled to begin October 1, 2011, following a four-month transition period.

“We are committed to our role in managing the astronomy and planetary studies programs, and to the entire team effort of building a great future for the observatory, in both research and education,” said Dr. Fred Tarantino, USRA President.

“SRI and its partners bring extensive experience in facility management, space science, radio astronomy, and a wide range of high-power radar techniques, as well as expertise in university partnerships and community relations. Together, we will support and, more importantly, expand the observatory’s cutting-edge science programs,” said John Kelly, Ph.D., program director for the Center for GeoSpace Studies at SRI. “We will use our combined expertise to allow the observatory to become an ever greater resource to the astronomy, planetary science, and space science communities.”

The SRI team and its on-site partners —USRA, the Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) — will work together under the leadership of Robert Kerr, Ph.D., SRI’s director designate of the Arecibo Observatory, to forge a new future for the observatory.

SRI and the USRA will leverage their science operations and management experience to enhance and develop observatory capabilities in radio astronomy (AST), planetary radar science (PRS), and space and atmospheric science (SAS). UMET, part of Puerto Rico’s second largest private university system, brings expertise in education, public outreach, and facilities management, and will cover site operations and education and public outreach activities at the observatory. UPR will sponsor joint faculty appointments and will develop education and research opportunities.

To advance research and education at the observatory, SRI and its partners are working with multiple Puerto Rican government agencies and private organizations to ensure close collaboration with educational and economic development institutions in Puerto Rico.

“This development is a turning point in the future of the observatory where we will create and expand Puerto Rican and international educational opportunities in ways that were never before possible,” said UMET’s Dr. Juan Arratia, vice president for Planning and Academic Affairs.

“This is an excellent collaborative effort and will represent expanded opportunities for research and graduate studies in astronomy and atmospheric sciences at UPR,” said UPR President Dr. Miguel Munoz.

“I look forward to a new, bright and expanding future building on past scientific successes and the skill, expertise and dedication of the observatory staff,” said Dr. Robert Kerr, SRI’s director designate of the Arecibo Observatory. “Our vision and broad reach-back to Puerto Rican, mainland, and international university communities will bring forward new ideas and new science, assuring the observatory’s leading position for many years into the future.”

USRA brings a rich history in astronomy beginning with the management of the Lunar Science Institute, now the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and including astronomy institutes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Ames Research Center. “We are pleased to be involved with the operation of this renowned observatory with its long history of achievement,” said USRA Science Vice President Dr. Don Kniffen.

Founded in 1969, USRA is an independent research corporation with competencies that span space, Earth, and life sciences related disciplines, which are closely aligned with the nation’s science and national security agencies. As a nonprofit corporation with 105 major research university members, USRA’s scientific and technical staff collaborate with over 300 universities annually. This depth of reach into the research community provides a unique platform for advancing science and technology.

For more information, visit

Universities Space Research Association

Arecibo Observatory

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