The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope has increased its capacity for remote transmission of data by a factor of 25. A new connection consisting of 150 kilometres of fibre optic cables has been successfully installed between the observatory — situated 34 kilometres from San Pedro de Atacama — and the city of Calama in northern Chile.
From Calama, the system connects with the Corporación Red Universitaria Nacional (REUNA) network, which is already established in Antofagasta and, from there onwards, to the offices of ALMA in Santiago, through existing infrastructure (the EVALSO project).
This milestone for ALMA means that in future an enormous amount of data can be delivered, with astonishing speed, to the ALMA scientific community around the world.
This important step for the scientific work of ALMA is the result of a contract signed between AUI, the institution that represents the North American partners of ALMA, with Sílica Networks Chile S.A. and Telefónica Empresas Chile S.A. It is expected that while it will benefit the scientific work, the system will also facilitate connectivity through optical fibre to an area of the country that lacks this facility so far, and which might even be extended to reach Argentina in the future.
“This new infrastructure not only allows the transmission of the enormous amount of data generated by ALMA, but also improves the level of communication between the people operating the observatory at a remote site in the middle of the Atacama Desert and those who process that data in the central offices in Santiago and around the world,” said Giorgio Filippi of ESO, who is project leader.
The technological milestone culminated in tests of data transmission between the Chajnantor Plateau, situated at an altitude of 5000 metres above sea level, where the 66 ALMA antennas are located, and offices in Santiago. Although the full capacity of the installed network was not used — two channels with a capacity exceeding 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) were used for testing — a videoconference between both geographical points was established successfully, as well as with the Santiago offices of REUNA, simultaneously, which proved that the system works.