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1. What is the PST

The NRAO Proposal Submission Tool (PST) is a package for creating and submitting proposals for NRAO telescopes. The PST has been used for GBT observing proposals since June 2005, VLA observing proposals since January 2006, VLBA/HSA observing proposals since 2 June 2008, and GMVA (Global Millimeter VLBI Array) observing proposals since 8 July 2012.

The PST is a combination of HTML and Java that is intended to be run from any web browser with both Javascript and Cookies enabled. If either is not enabled, the PST will fail without warning. The PST is known to be compatible with any combination of:


  • Operating System: Linux, Mac OS X (10.3 or greater), SunOS (5.10 only), Windows (XP only)
  • Browser: Firefox (1.0 or greater), Safari (312 or greater for the 300 series [1.3.x OS] and 419 or greater for the 400 series [1.4.x OS]), Internet Explorer (6 or 7), Netscape (7 only)

The purpose of the PST is to create an XML document which contains an NRAO observing proposal. The XML document contains cover page information (investigator names, contact information, and so on) as well as scientific and technical justifications, and observation and scheduling requests.

The PST is designed to make the proposal submission process simple both for proposal authors, and for the NRAO staff processing the proposals. For NRAO support staff, the PST ensures that proposal information is supplied in a uniform and complete manner. Electronic submission means that the proposal information can easily be inserted into the scheduling database, without the tedious manual re-typing that was previously required.

To start the PST, enable Javascript and Cookies in your web browser, then just click here.

2. Proposal Types

The four proposal types are described below. However, recall that the GMVA is scheduled during two specific sessions during the year; thus in most cases only Regular proposals should be submitted for the GMVA (Questions about GMVA DDT or Triggered proposals should be directed to the GMVA scheduler -- see the GMVA home page:

GMVA Home Page


Regular Proposals

Regular proposals are currently received on a semester basis with deadlines of February 1 and August 1. If the deadline falls on Saturday or Sunday, it is extended to the following Monday. A regular proposal must request less than 200 hours of observing time on one or more of the NRAO telescopes. Some regular proposals will request coordination with non-NRAO telescopes.


Large Proposals

A large proposal is one that requires at least 200 hours of observing time on one or more of the NRAO telescopes. As of the 2 June 2008 deadline, large proposals can be submitted at any deadline; the page limits for these proposals are different than for regular proposals. For details see the large proposal policy at:

Large Proposal Policy


Triggered Proposals

Triggered proposals for pre-planned observations of transients whose event times are unknown a priori must be submitted during one of the regular semester call periods. These proposals must (a) include specific triggering criteria, and (b) state the semesters over which the proposal is requested to remain active. Please provide this information within the textbox. Furthermore, a Triggered proposal must ask for the full amount of time needed to achieve the science goals, including both initial and follow-up observations. Proposers should not be using Director's Discretionary Time to request follow-up of an event initially observed under a Triggered proposal.


Proposals for Director's Discretionary Time

Proposals for Director's Discretionary Time (DDT) may be submitted at any time via the PST. They are intended to address targets of opportunity (ToO), high-risk/high-return exploratory proposals, or other science opportunities deemed sufficiently urgent to justify prompt action.

Target of Opportunity (ToO) proposals are for unexpected or unpredicted phenomena such as supernovae in nearby galaxies or extreme X-ray or radio flares. If you are uncertain whether the phenomenon is covered under a regular triggered proposal, please contact the NRAO via the Helpdesk.

Exploratory Proposals are normally for requests of small amounts of time, typically a few hours or less, in response to a recent discovery, possibly to facilitate future submission of a larger proposal. In general, there will not be a need for immediate scheduling with these proposals, but, for example, they may need to be observed in the current VLA configuration rather than waiting 16 months, or should be observed with the VLBA without waiting for an entire proposal cycle.

Education and Public Outreach (EPO) DDT proposals may also be submitted for the purpose of education and public outreach---for example, to image an iconic source or to support a educational opportunity for students. Such proposals should clearly justify the requirements for the requested time allocation and observing mode on any given instrument, and should describe the anticipated impact of the observation. 

N.B., DDT proposals cannot be joint proposals that request external telescope time.  For example, a DDT proposal cannot request HST orbits.

For additional details concerning DDT proposals see:

Directory's Discretionary Time

3. Proposal Section

The Proposals Tab allows you to manage your proposals. Your proposals will be kept in a database so that you may save them and return to editing them at a later time. In order to protect your proposal information, a username and password are required to gain entry to the PST.

Each proposal is edited by entering information into a series of sections, listed in a tree structure on the left side of the page. Each section is devoted to a single aspect of the proposal.

Partially completed proposals may be saved within the PST, even with errors and/or length over-runs, allowing authors to complete their proposals at their leisure. Once the proposal is complete, it may be submitted to NRAO from within the tool. Proposals may also be withdrawn up until the proposal deadline.

If your PST web session is quiet (i.e., no server activity) for 30 minutes or more the system will automatically log you out. To resume working on the proposal, simply log back in and start editing the proposal again.

You will also be able to copy proposals previously submitted with the PST, either to revise them for resubmission during another proposal cycle, or to serve as templates for new proposals. If desired you may specify which sections to copy from a previously submitted proposal. However, if Resources for a given telescope have been changed so that and old proposal's Resources are incompatible with a new proposal deadline, then one may not copy Resources from an old proposal.

Once you have logged in and clicked on the Proposal tab, you will be presented with a list of your proposals with search and filtering options on the left-hand side. To the right will be a table consisting of the proposal name, legacy ID, title, P.I. name, submitted date, and status. Within the proposal column there exists icons to delete, validate, copy, print, submit or withdraw the proposal.

To edit a proposal, click on its highlighted title. To start a new proposal, click on the New Proposal'' button, then select the type of proposal you are creating (VLA, GBT, VLBA/HSA, or GMVA). You will be returned to the proposal list where you will find a new link representing a new, blank proposal. To edit it, click on its highlighted title.

At this point, you will be in proposal editing mode. On the left will be a tree structure with your proposals and under each proposal are links to different sections of the proposal. Each link represents a major category of proposal information. The sections are:

  • General: Title, abstract, proposal type, etc.
  • Authors: List of authors and contact information.
  • Scientific Justification: Scientific justification.
  • Technical Justification: Technical justification.
  • Sources: Source positions and velocities.
  • Resources: Resource information, which can be GBT-specific: back ends, receivers, modes, etc.; VLA-specific: receivers, special back ends, correlator modes, etc.; or VLBA/HSA or GMVA-specific: antennas, receivers, bit rates, processing, etc. This will depend upon the type of proposal being created.
  • Sessions: Describes the amount of time requested, and how it should be divided amongst the various sources and resources. For most simple observations, each session represents a contiguous block of observing time, and the sum of the times for all sessions is the total requested observing time.
  • Student Support: Information for financial support requests for students at U.S. universities or colleges. Starting with Semester 2013B (1 February 2013 deadline) the PST will not be used to submit Student Observing Support (SOS) request but an online application system will be used to collect SOS proposals from successful PIs.

To move between the sections, simply click on the desired link, or use the page-forward and back buttons on the right-hand side of the page.

4. Text Length Within Entry Fields

NRAO policy limits the length of various entries in the proposal, as well as the number of pages for the scientific justification. These limits are indicated in the appropriate entry fields of the PST. In most cases these limits are not enforced until the proposal is actually submitted, to allow authors flexibility as they are preparing their draft proposals.

5. Text Formatting Within Entry Fields

It is not necessary to format the typed text within the PST by, for example, including line feeds. The PST will automatically wrap each line as needed. Indeed, if previously formatted text is imported or included from an external file, the only way to deformat it is to delete the control characters manually. Sophisticated formatting, such as italics, mathematical symbols, and font changes, are not allowed in text entry fields.

LATEX control sequences may be used in text boxes; however, no LATEX processing is performed by the program, and all such commands will appear in their raw format in the saved/submitted XML file.

6. Levels of Help

On each PST page, you will find a Help'' button in the toolbar that will open this document to the appropriate section.

7. Reporting Errors, Problems, and Suggestions

At the bottom of each PST page, you will find a link to the Proposal Help Desk to send questions or comments about the PST to NRAO. You can also go to the main Helpdesk tab.

8. Sources, Resources, and Sessions

For the VLA, the primary substantive change between the earlier text submission process and proposal submission through the PST is the way in which observing requests are structured. The PST employs the concept of sessions, long in use for GBT observing requests. Generally a session represents a contiguous block of observing time. A session describes the amount of time requested for that block, and how it should be divided amongst various sources and resources. Many observing runs involve a single observing session per day. A proposal may request multiple observing sessions, either as repeats of the same session (for example, in monitoring observations), or as truly independent sessions (for example, in multi-configuration VLA observations). For the VLBA/HSA or GMVA, the sessions are structured in the same way as for the VLA.

Within the PST, each session is specified as one source group/resource group pair for the GBT, and as one or more source group/resource pairs for the VLA, VLBA/HSA, or GMVA. The concept of a source group or a resource group is intended to make it easier to handle observations of a large number of sources or resources within a single observing session. The resource specifies the telescope setup to be used in observing the sources within a specified source group: the front end receiver, the back end, and the technical details of how they are to be used together. For the VLA, VLBA/HSA, or GMVA, resources are not grouped.

Each session has additional information, including a session name, a minimum start LST, a maximum end LST, a minimum elevation, a total session time, a counter for the number of times the session is executed plus a separation interval, text describing scheduling constraints, and text giving comments. Some of this information is not applicable for the VLBA/HSA or GMVA and is replaced by other parameters (e.g. minimum start GST, maximum end GST). For the VLA, VLBA/HSA, and GMVA, each source group/resource pair has an associated observing time and rms noise level, and the total time for the session is normally the sum of the observing times requested for the constituent source/resource pairs. For the GBT, the total observing time for the session is manually entered.

Most simple proposals fit fairly naturally into this scheme; some will not. At the moment those edge cases'' are handled primarily through the session's comments box. One can also manually over-ride the simple sum of pairs'' calculation of the total observing time for a VLA, VLBA/HSA, or GMVA session. If you are not sure that your session accurately represents what you wish to do, you are strongly encouraged to enter a text description in the appropriate comments field. If many proposals require similar tweaking, we will consider extending the concept of sessions to handle those cases.

The practical details of constructing sessions are described in the separate Sessions Section.  Examples of how one might use sessions to handle various types of observing are provided for the GBT and the VLA.