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

North American ALMA Development Program - 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.

The following questions have arisen after the Cycle 9 Call for Projects Informational Webinar

Q. Regarding compliance with the draft Digitizer/Front-end and Correlator Specifications documents (linked from Call page) -- do project proposals have to meet all the minimum requirements?

A. No, these documents are both in draft form (significantly reviewed but not fully adopted yet by the ALMA project) and presently represent recommendations. However, compliance with both minimum and stretch goals should be fully discussed in the proposal; compliance with the minimum goals is highly desirable and any lack should be fully justified. Also, project proposals must at minimum propose to reproduce ALMA's current capabilities and performance, and be consistent with the goals of the ALMA Development Roadmap.

Q. If something notable changes after the NOI deadline, should I let you know?

A. Yes, especially if collaborating institutions are added or subtracted (this information will be used to determine conflict of interest for the review panel). Additionally, if you decide not to submit a proposal after all, please do let us know. Send update info to: almadevelopment@nrao.edu


The following entries were posted March 12, 2021

Q. What is the "audience" for the Project Proposals?

A. The Review Panel will be composed of both technical topical experts and ALMA Science Community members (i.e. expert users of ALMA), so sufficient technical detail for an expert to asses feasibility of the project, as well as, the impact on ALMA science capabilities should be provided.

Q. Where should the requested compliance matrix for Frond-end/Digitizer and Correlator Project Proposals (compared to the new Draft Specifications) go in the Proposal Template?

A. Please put the Compliance Matrix in Section 4 (Scope)

Q. For a Project Proposal for which the endpoint is a prototype and Preliminary Design Review (PDR) what is the expectation for the level of planning/cost detail for the implementation phase i.e. post PDR?

A. For a Project proposal with prototype/PDR as the endpoint of the funded work, the planning/cost detail for the future implementation phase should be detailed enough to convey the expected timeline for full implementation, and a rough estimate of the ultimate implementation cost. If there are known factors / ultimate design options that may significantly affect the final cost (i.e. things to be determined by prototyping) that should be described.

We also note that Implementation Project Proposals must include the full implementation cost and timeline: hardware, associated software, deployment, and integration, as well as estimates of impacts to affected subsystems.  

Q. What should go in Appendix A of the Proposal Template (Reference Documents)?

A. Appendix A should only include the bibliographic information for documents referenced in the proposal. Any reference used in the proposal (and listed in Appendix A) should be accessible to Reviewers. However, key aspects of the proposal should be self-contained. For example, support for a particular point can be given by referencing an ALMA Memo or scientific journal paper, but the point and its relevance to the proposal should be fully described. You should not expect reviewers to read Reference Documents to understand the key points of the proposal.

Q. In the Proposal Template, there are several tables that are at a high level  e.g. cost, risk. We would like to provide added detail (e.g. a risk register) - where should such added information go?

A. If you wish to supply additional information, at a level beyond that requested, you can create additional Appendices (D and onward). Be sure to reference the added Appendices in the appropriate section(s) of the main document. So for example, if you want to provide a detailed risk register, after Table 4.0 you could put "See detailed Risk Register in added Appendix XX". However, note that reviewers will be told that Appendix C is the last *required* subsection. i.e. Reviewers can take into account extra information but should not penalize proposals for not providing extra information compared to another one.

Q. Table 6 of the Proposal Template splits the direct and indirect costs resulting in an indirect cost rate. For our institution, we have different indirect cost categories - direct labor overhead, materials handling, G&A. Is it okay to break these up and have several lines in the table?

A. Yes, you may break the information into different rows in Table 6.

Q. Table 10 of the Proposal Template breaks the cost into fiscal years. Are these government fiscal years?

A. Yes, as the funding comes from NSF, please use US government fiscal years: 10/1-9/30.

Q. Table 11 of the Proposal Template (Total Value) has the total offerer's cost as the collaborating institution in-kind contributions. Should this also include the collaborating institutions costs to provide the total value?

A. We apologize, the information requested for the Proposal Template Tables 9.0 and 11.0 could have been more clearly described. Referring to the unmodified template:

Row 2 of Table 9 should only include *funded* Collaborating Institution / Contractor Total Cost

Row 1 of Table 11.0 should be the Total Cost from Table 9.0 minus Contingency.

Row 2 of Table 11.0 should only include In-Kind Contributions

Q. Should collaborating institutions be funded through sub-awards to the PI institution or can they be funded directly by NRAO?

A. Collaborating institutions will be funded from the PI's institution through sub-awards and not funded directly from NRAO.


The following entries were posted March 19, 2021

Q. Does a correlator project's scope need to include backwards compatibility with existing (legacy) antennas’ digitizers?

A. The current timeline for update of the ALMA digitizers (and digital transmission system) is uncertain. Ideally backwards compatibility will not be necessary, and is not currently required. However, inability to test and commission a new correlator with on-sky signal in a timely fashion is a valid risk. Thus, we recommend that correlator proposals include a costed mitigation option for this risk, but do not include it in the baseline budget.

Q. Can we assume that the 2nd Generation Correlator will be located at the OSF (Observing Support Facility)? The Correlator Specifications document conveys that this is desirable but it is unclear whether a final decision has been made.

A. Based on the Correlator Specifications recommendations, a team of ALMA experts is presently investigating this question in detail, and thus far have not found any contraindications. Thus, it is very likely that the 2nd Generation Correlator will be at the OSF, and a final decision is expected before such a proposal would go to the ALMA Board in Nov 2021.

We recommend that you state clearly in your proposal that you are making this assumption. If possible, please also include a mitigation option that describes the additional cooling that would be required if the correlator is at the AOS (high site) that is roughly costed but not included in the baseline cost.

Q. As described in the "ALMA Development Program Implementation Plan", projects submitted to the ALMA Board for the "full implementation phase" must include the full implementation cost of the upgrade itself: hardware, associated software, deployment, integration, and commissioning. Implementation phase projects submitted to the Board must also include directly or indirectly (through agreements) the cost to upgrade all impacted subsystems and infrastructure to be compatible with the upgrade. How should proposers address this latter requirement?

A. The detailed timeline for upgrading the whole ALMA system to the ALMA 2030 goals is not yet clear, though for certain the full burden of the pan-ALMA upgrade shall not fall on the subsystem that goes first. Additionally, detailed cross-partner agreements for cost-sharing or in-kind contributions are typically only formulated after the initial NSF down-select for North American Development Project proposals (but before submission to the ALMA Board). Therefore, for the Cycle 9 call for Projects:

* In Section 4 (Scope) of the Proposal Template, please include a subsection entitled "Impacts to Affected Subsystems and Infrastructure". In this subsection, please describe expected impacts from the upgrade to relevant subsystems and any significant required changes to ALMA infrastructure, but they need not be costed in detail, nor included in the submitted project budget. Note that impacted subsystems can span from the ALMA site to final data delivery/archive.

* Additionally, NRAO will work closely with projects that are approved by the NSF review process to prepare detailed cost estimates for the associated impacts in order to prepare proposals to go the ALMA Board. Up to 10% of additional NA Development funding will be added to the submitted project budgets to help cover the impact costs of the upgrade.  The (up to) 10% added for associated impacts is included as part of total project cost as submitted to NSF and the ALMA Board. Please note that this added (up to) 10% is completely separate from Contingency funds, which proposers should include within the submitted proposal at an appropriate level.

Q. Is the provision of new data transport equipment from antennas to the OSF site the responsibility of the second generation correlator team?

A. No, though specialized equipment to read the data from the fiber(s) and convert it to correlator compatible format could be necessary. Unfortunately, the detailed requirements for the ALMA 2030 data transport are not currently available. So please include a likely scenario with clearly defined assumptions. This uncertainty can also be identified as a Risk.


The following entries were posted March 29, 2021

Q. What is the definition of key personnel?  Or to put it another way, which require CVs?

A. Key personnel are at minimum those people without whom the project could not be completed -- by which we mean the specific person not someone fulfilling a key role necessarily. Anyone named as a co-investigator (collaborator) should include a CV.

Every distinct institution with whom you are collaborating should have at least one co-Investigator listed. The only way to really "get in trouble" here is to not explicitly list as a collaborating institution (along with at least one person's name) a place that will draw financial gain from the proposed project. This is essential because it forms the basis of determining conflict of interest for review of the proposal.

Otherwise, it is up to you to designate who are named key personnel and thus co-Is. For example, a person who fabricates parts could be an absolutely key role, but your institution may have a pool of such experts to draw from so it is not necessary to list a specific person for this role as a collaborator, however the role (title) and FTEs must be included for example in Sections 11 and 13.

Whether a project has adequate scientific/technical expertise will be judged by the list of co-Is and associated CVs; adequate resources to execute the project by Section 11.

Q. Is it anticipated that any channelization of the data will happen upstream of the correlator subystem?

A. The 2nd Generation ALMA Correlator Specification recommendations strongly recommended that the signal delivered to the correlator subsystem be time-series with no upstream channelization. That is, all data transformations to be handled by the correlator subsystem. This recommendation has not been met with any significant concern so far by the other ALMA 2030 working groups, and thus seems likely to be adopted. We recommend costing based on this assumption.

Q. Have any of the 2nd Generation Correlator Requirements been updated since Version 2 (i.e. the one posted on the Call website)?

A. Yes, see below.

* The explanatory text for Requirement 6.2.5 has been refined:

We note that "The Digitizer/Front-end Working group report recommends a frequency dependent passband gain variation < 5.4 dB (S6.5). This includes everything upstream of the digitizer and the frequency range to be considered for the gain variations is the IF range equal to the digitized frequency band (i.e. the baseband bandwidth). The correlator spec 6.2.5 is for integrated power and is on top of the upstream spec.

We have also clarified our text to include the information that maser emission will be very narrow for an individual feature (< 1km/s) and have a velocity extent of < 100 km/s.

* The specification and text for Requirement 6.2.9 has been refined:

In the requirements table, the entries now read:

Minimum Requirement
-3.0+/-0.01 dB from center to channel edge; better than -60 dB at center of adjacent channel and -80 dB response beyond

Stretch Goal
-3.0+/-0.01 dB from center to channel edge; better than -80 dB at center of adjacent channel and -80 dB response beyond

Goals set by demonstrated polyphase filter bank performance.

The text for this requirement has been modified to

"The measured cross-power spectrum of an FX correlator varies as a sinc squared function which has low sidelobe responses compared to the sinc function response of an XF correlator. As required for spectroscopic observations, an FFX correlator architecture can achieve a  high spectral purity by combining frequency sub-channels of the input bandwidth (see S6.2.7)  followed, in the second F portion of the FFX, by a high performance polyphase filter-bank (PFB). Filter bank simulations performed for the SKA1-mid correlator (see RD06) show that a high performance imaging channelizer can be designed to achieve -3dB ±0.01 dB amplitude at the channel edge relative to the channel center, and monotonically decreasing to better than -60 dB response at the next adjacent channel’s center and -80 dB response at subsequent channels. Thus, we recommend that this performance be taken as the minimum goal, and that the stretch goal is to achieve -80 dB by the center of the adjacent channel and beyond."

Q. Regarding 2nd Generation Correlator requirement 6.3.1, the shortest integration time, under what circumstances are the shortest integration times expected to be used?

A. We will refine this requirement in the future. For now, it is notable that the shortest integration times would likely be used for either

1) Wide-bandwidth, low spectral resolution continuum variability (but consistent with preventing significant BW smearing).

2) Narrow-bandwidth (100 MHz or so), high spectral resolution for rapidly varying line features (masers perhaps).

With these use cases in mind, restrictions for observing modes using the shortest cross-correlation time (16 ms) are likely. Also of note, the 1 ms shortest auto-correlation time is intended to enable Total Power observations. When observed with a cross-correlation observing mode, the shortest auto-correlation time is also likely to be 16 ms. For scoping a 2nd Generation ALMA Correlator please point out practical cost break-points related to shortest integration times.