Alcatel Alenia Space has signed a €147 contract with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to supply 25 antennas for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) project. The project is aimed at setting up an array of radio telescopes to study the origins of galaxies and the formation of stars from Chile. When completed, it will be the largest and most capable imaging array of telescopes in the world.

The ALMA project is an international partnership between Europe, North America and Japan, in collaboration with Chile. Alcatel Alenia Space is leading a consortium of manufacturers from France, Italy and Germany, representing the European contribution to the project. The project started with the manufacture and validation of three prototype antennas, operating in the 30 to 950 GHz bandwidths, delivered respectively by the United States, Europe and Japan. Following the scientific evaluation of the prototype provided by Europe, Alcatel Alenia Space signed the contract that covers the design, manufacture, transport and on-site integration of the 25, 12 m wide antennas and their installation in Chajnantor, at an altitude of 5,000 m on the Atacama desert in Chile. The deployment will last until 2011.

The ALMA project is a very daunting technical challenge, since the antenna surface accuracy must be within 25 microns, the pointing accuracy within 0.6 arc seconds, and the antennas must be able to be moved over a distance of 10 km, and offer Sun-sighting capability. The observation array will cover more than 7,000 m2.

"We would like to thank ESO for trusting us to take on this new challenge," said Pascale Sourisse, president and CEO of Alcatel Alenia Space. "We are bringing to the table not only our recognized expertise in antenna development, but also our long-standing experience in coordinating consortiums in charge of complex, high performance ground systems."