Radiotelescope to point skyward again for space science

Upgrades at the radiotelescope space research facility at Irbene in Ventspils district have been completed and after some spectacular cranework its antenna was raised again atop the tower in the woods Wednesday. From now on the Irbene Astronomy Center shall be closed to the public as it prepares to resume space research operations in October.

More than 100 people including workers and guests from the Academy of Sciences and the Ventspils local community of schoolchildren, teachers and curiosity seekers arrived by bicycle and bus to watch the raising ceremony and delight in the massive gear being so gingerly lowered into place.

The enormous 80-ton cone of the RT-32 antenna is comprised of around 20,000 parts of precisely calibrated panes. It took over 30 heavy vehicles supporting the central Liebherr LG1750 crane during the past week just to get ready for today’s lifting. Only one stray gust of wind rocked the dangling saucer as it rose under sunny blue skies, delaying its trajectory just slightly.

Now the painstaking regulation of each part can proceed as planned, to be set for completion in October 2015. The renovation work involved the slightly less complicated procedure of getting the antenna off the tower at the end of 2014, as it had never undergone an upgrade after decades in service.

The Radioastronomy center began operating at Irbene in 1974 for Soviet military purposes. During the 1990’s it was repurposed for scientific research. The renovations are intended to bring the facility back up to par with Europe’s network of radioastronomy research centers.

Altogether the project, in cooperation with partners amongst the Ventspils district local governments, the state and EU co-financing, has cost close to €16m. About €1.5m was needed just for the antenna pane’s renovation alone.

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