Facilities > ALMA/NAASC > Science Sustainability > Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - ALMA Development: A Science Sustainability Program - Cycle Call for Project Proposals

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - ALMA Development: A Science Sustainability Program - Cycle Call for Project Proposals

by Lyndele von Schill last modified Feb 25, 2021 by Crystal Brogan

North American ALMA Development Program - Cycle 9 Call for Project Proposals Frequently Asked Questions

All relevant questions that have been submitted for the current and previous development calls are listed below.

Q.  What is the difference between a Study and a Project?

A.  A Study does not necessarily create something that will be implemented for ALMA - it may flesh out a concept, or perhaps result in a prototype. Studies may lead to projects when the concept has matured to a higher state of technical readiness. Projects must produce a tangible product for ALMA, though in some cases, the product can be a prototype that is intended to later lead to a follow-on proposal for full manufacturing or implementation.

 Q. Are Notices of Intent binding?

A. As of the Cycle 9 call for proposals, the submission of an NOI is mandatory, but the details provided (such as co-Is and project goals) are not binding and may be adjusted in the final proposal.

Q. What is the final submission deadline for proposals?

A.  Proposals received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time Zone, on the submission date, will be accepted.

Q. Must the Principal Investigator be an astronomer?

A. No; the PI need not be an astronomer nor do co-Investigators.

Q. Can the study/project completion date be extended beyond the nominal completion date?

A.  Studies and Projects may be granted a no-cost extension providing reasonable justification is provided, but this is in no way guaranteed. 

Q. I am not a member of the NA ALMA Partnership or the NA radio astronomy community.  How can I participate in a Call for Study or Project Proposals?

A. If you intend to propose a joint study or project (involving a NA ALMA Partner and/or NA radio astronomy community member and ESO, for example), the NA ALMA Partner (or NA radio astronomy community member) must write and submit the NA ALMA-funded portion of the proposed study/project. No NA funding can go to entities outside the NA ALMA Operations Partnership.

Q. What about intellectual property rights?  How will information provided in the Proposal be protected?

A. The Proposer retains intellectual property rights to their Proposal content. The Proposer may wish to execute a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the NRAO to protect Proposal content. IP rights to the Project results are subject to the terms and conditions of the Subrecipient Agreement. Note that proposal abstracts are made public.

Q.  In the proposal, what is the level of detail required for the status of current and prior Studies or Projects that received any related support within the past five years?

A. Note the Proposal title, the level of support received, and the current status.  A summary paragraph is sufficient.

The following questions arose from the Cycle 9 Call for Projects Informational Webinar

Q. Is it viable to propose an ALMA Development Project funding a lab demonstration of technology? In other words, a Phase 2 intermediate between a funded Development Study (Phase 1) and full deployment (Phase 3)?

A. A development project (hardware, software, tools/techniques) must have a tangible deliverable, but yes a prototype is a viable outcome of a Project, provided that the goal is to demonstrate that full manufacturing would be feasible within the constraints of the ALMA System. As an example, a few years ago a Project was funded to build an ALMA Band 2 prototype cartridge and it was used to verify that the design met the ALMA specifications (ultimately ALMA selected a different design to pursue). Initiatives at a lower level of readiness (pure technology demonstration for example) can benefit from a Study before moving to the Project (formal prototype) phase.

Q. What System Engineering methods, teams, and funding exists to ensure that the various subsystems developed under various discrete development grants across the three ALMA constituencies (NA, EA, EU) interface properly and are optimized through trade studies, to form a coherent major ALMA2030 upgrade? 

A. Please see the Principles for the ALMA Development Program (Link) and ALMA Development Program Implementation Plan (Link) released with the Call for details. But in short, the pan-partner ALMA System Engineering and ALMA Management Teams work to ensure cross-compatibility, and the pan-ALMA engineering and software teams are asked for detailed feedback and assessments on proposed projects. ALMA specifications are also developed by pan-ALMA experts.  Studies are not generally subject to cross-partner coordination (though there is often cross-membership on study proposals). Projects are heavily coordinated across the partnership, but they must first successfully pass the approval process by the proposing partner.  Next, proposals must pass a rigorous pan-ALMA evaluation of impacts across the ALMA system and then ALMA Board Review. Small issues might be ironed out at later design reviews but when a Project is presented to the ALMA Board its costing must include allocations for all affected subsystems, or agreements to have them addressed outside the funding proposal (by other ALMA partners, industry partners, regional institutions etc).

Q. Relevant to the previous question, do you anticipate interest in a Project proposal under this call to manage ALMA2030-wide system engineering and architecture?


A. ALMA handles system engineering as an internal management task and it involves extensive participation/interaction between the Joint ALMA Observatory & regional partners. It would be quite difficult to manage externally, but we can take note if there is an offer of external system engineering expertise.

Q. What is ALMA’s schedule to upgrade the Correlator-Beamformer (CBF)? And to doubling or more the bandwidth of the overall telescope in priority wavebands?

A. There is no discrete schedule, but it is generally hoped that the near-term goals of the ALMA Roadmap, particularly at least doubling the bandwidth of the system can be achieved by the end of this decade (though updating all receiver bands will likely happen more slowly).  The draft specifications for Digitizer/Front-End and Correlator on the Call website are efforts of the ALMA Management Team to arrive at definite specifications which will then hopefully lead to more rapid progress.  

Q. Does ALMA see compelling value in improved digital efficiency (~5 bit processing) in a same-bandwidth CBF system?  With a plan to add additional segments aligned with system-wide ALMA bandwidth upgrades?

A. Improved digital efficiency is a goal which is included in the new draft specifications.  But ALMA would not be interested in greater digital efficiency at this point without at least a factor of 2 gain in bandwidth.

Q. What is the funding pool available for the Cycle 9 North American ALMA Development Project call?  I note the $5M/yr for up to 5 year performance period stated in the CfP, but how many such projects could be funded? 

A. The $5M/yr ($25M over 5-years) total funding umbrella is based on past record of annual funding commitment for development, but as always, is subject to continuity and availability of funding.  Additional funds outside the annual funding might become available, but are not assured. Additionally, some ALMA projects leverage additional regional sources of funding, and even cross-ALMA partnership funding. For example EU’s Band 2 development leverages several sources of funding (both regional and cross-Partner with NAOJ).

Q. How is it expected the funding will be distributed across the various proposed projects? Is budget taken into account.

A. There will be an independent review by both technical experts and ALMA science community members to assess and rank the proposals as described in the proposal instructions. During the independent review, budget is not a primary factor (though assessments that the request is insufficient or too generous to achieve the stated goals can arise). Subsequently, the top ranked proposals that can fit within the overall funding profile and when possible provide for a balanced program are selected to move forward for ALMA Board level consideration.

Q. What funding is available specifically for CBF development?   

A. No specific funding amount is set aside for any particular development.


Q. What funding exists for the system-wide upgrade of ALMA, including receivers, samplers and digital front end, DTS, archive, to support a wider band CBF?

A. Within ALMA, the cross-partnership funding is ~$13M/yr, spread across the partners but not administered in a uniform fashion, See  webinar talk (Wootten) for major initiatives at other partners (receiver bands, digitizers etc).

Q. Does NRAO see value in demonstrating a scaled down version of receiver, CBF, ADC, other technology for PoC at a smaller submillimeter telescope, e.g. SMA or NOEMA?

A. The Principles of ALMA Development (Link) state that “projects focus on the delivery of tangible improvements to ALMA for a particular aim with defined deliverables to ALMA.”  A demonstrator project for another telescope would likely not satisfy this requirement.  There is no current precedent for such projects.

Q. What is the expected lifetime of the ALMA Baseline Correlator (BLC)?

A. ALMA has recently reviewed the likely points of failure/obsolescence  and is procuring additional spares with the goal of ensuring that the BLC can run for the rest of this decade if necessary.

Q. Is it possible that the review process suggests either descoping or expanding a project?

A. The reviewers are charged with reviewing/ranking proposals as stated.