VLA Proposal Guide

by Bryan Butler last modified Jan 04, 2019 by Davis Murphy


VLA Configuration Plans and Science Time Available

The 1 February 2019 deadline covers the observing period 20 November 2019 through 10 February 2020 (Semester 2019B), corresponding to the D configuration of the VLA. Multi-configuration proposals that include this configuration may also be submitted. Additionally, proposals requesting only configurations that will fall in semester 2020A (or later) may be submitted if the Principal Investigator is a graduate student. NRAO offers this service to provide scientific and technical feedback for students, and to provide them with an opportunity to re-submit their proposals for their principal semester with this information in hand. Students should ensure that their status is up to date and correct in the NRAO User Database. Please refer to the VLA Configuration Plans for details and availability of upcoming configurations.

A plot of estimated available observing hours as a function of LST and weather conditions for the D configuration in semester 2019B is below. In this plot, engineering, maintenance, and testing cause the solid (upper) line to be less than the total number of LST days in the configuration; such activities occur predominantly during daytime.


2019B semester D-configuration availability plot  


Estimated science time available per LST hour is shown by the solid (upper) black line for all frequencies, the dashed (middle) line for K-band conditions, and dotted (lower) line for Q-band conditions. The colored bars show time already committed in previous proposal rounds, where green represents priority A, yellow priority B, and red priority C. For the net available time in either configuration per LST hour subtract the bars of the pre-committed time from the black curve.

Observing Capabilities for Semester 2019B

For the 2019B observing semester, we have added the following capabilities to our General Observing (GO) program: frequency averaging, and phase-binned pulsar observations.  Details are given in the Offered VLA Capabilities during the Next Semester section of the Observational Status Summary (OSS) and are summarized in the following table.  Several additional capabilities are available to proposers through the Shared Risk Observing (SRO) and Resident Shared Risk Observing (RSRO) programs, as described below.


8-bit samplers

Standard default setups for:

    • 2 GHz bandwidth continuum observations at S/C/X/Ku/K/Ka/Q bands (16 × 128 MHz subbands)
    • 1 GHz bandwidth continuum observations at L-band (16 × 64 MHz subbands)
      • 256 MHz bandwidth continuum observations at P-band (16 × 16 MHz subbands)

      Flexible setups for spectroscopy, using two, independently tunable, 1 GHz baseband pairs, each of which can be split into up to 16 flexibly tunable subbands

      Single, dual, and full polarization products

      3-bit samplers

      Standard default setups for:

        • 8 GHz bandwidth continuum observations at K/Ka/Q-bands
        • 6 GHz bandwidth at Ku-band
        • 4 GHz bandwidth at C/X-bands

      Flexible setups for spectroscopy, using four, independently tunable, 2 GHz baseband pairs, each of which can be split into up to 16 flexibly tunable subbands

      Single, dual, and full polarization products

      Mixed 3-bit and 8-bit samplers

      Allows more flexibility for simultaneous continuum and high-resolution spectral line observing


      Up to 3 independent subarrays using standard 8-bit continuum setups

      Phased array for VLBI

      See VLBA Call for Proposals

      Solar observing

      All solar observing except the L-band reverse-coupled system

      On-The-Fly Mosaicing (OTF)

      P-, L-, S-, and C-bands only; no subarrays


      Phase-binned pulsar observing

      Frequency averaging

      Frequency averaging in the correlator by a factor of two or four (only available for single subarray and non-OTF observations)

      Both single pointing and mosaics with discrete, multiple field centers will be supported. Data rates up to 25 MB/s (90 GB/hour) will be available to all users and, with additional justification, data rates up to 60 MB/s (216 GB/hour) will be available. Correlator integration time limits per band and per array configuration also apply as described in the OSS. The data rate and total data volume required by a proposal will be a consideration in its technical evaluation.

      There are some limitations on frequency settings and tuning ranges, especially at Ka-band; please consult the OSS for further details. Additionally, the Exposure Calculator has been updated and other special tools are available to assist users with the development of correlator setups for the proposal deadline (see VLA Proposal Submission Guidelines). All antennas employ electronics and receiver systems that provide continuous frequency coverage from 1–50 GHz in the following observing bands: 1–2 GHz (L-band); 2–4 GHz (S-band); 4–8 GHz (C-band); 8–12 GHz (X-band); 12–18 GHz (Ku-band); 18–26.5 GHz (K-band); 26.5–40 GHz (Ka-band); and 40–50 GHz (Q-band).  In addition to these, all VLA antennas are equipped with 224-480 MHz (P-band) and 54-86 (4-band) receivers near the prime focus.  For details see the Low Frequency Observing section below.

      We continue to offer shared risk programs to our user community for those who would like to push the capabilities of the VLA beyond those offered for general use.

      VLA Shared Risk Observing

      The VLA Shared Risk Observing (SRO) program allows users access to capabilities that can be set up via the Observation Preparation Tool (OPT) and run through the dynamic scheduler without intervention, but are not well tested. The following capabilities are offered under the SRO program in Semester 2019B:

        • On-the-Fly (OTF) mosaicing for X-, Ku-, K-, Ka-, and Q-bands (used when each pointing on the sky is no more than a few seconds), but not using subarrays; and
        • 32 subbands per baseband with the 8-bit samplers.

      See the VLA Proposal Submission Guidelines web page for information about tools and other advice on proposing for Shared Risk observing capabilities.

      VLA Resident Shared Risk Observing

      The VLA Resident Shared Risk Observing (RSRO) program provides access to extended capabilities of the VLA that require additional testing. This access is provided in exchange for a period of residence to help commission those capabilities. Examples of capabilities that would fall under the RSRO program in Semester 2019B include:

        • correlator dump times shorter than 50 msec, including integration times as short as 5 msec for transient detection;
        • pulsar observations using the YUPPI system;
        • data rates above 60 MB/s;
        • recirculation beyond a factor of 64 in the correlator;
        • P-band system (224–480 MHz) polarimetry;
        • 4-band system (54–86 MHz; see Low Frequency Observing section below);
        • more than 3 subarrays, or subarrays with the 3-bit system;
        • complex phased array observations (e.g., pulsar and complex VLBI observing modes);
        • Frequency averaging by more than a factor of 4.

      A detailed description of the VLA RSRO program for semester 2019B and beyond is available at the VLA Proposal Submission Guidelines web page.

      Low Frequency Observing

      The new low frequency receiver system developed in collaboration with the Naval Research Laboratory is available for observations at P-band (224–480 MHz) through the GO and SRO programs. Use of the P-band system for polarimetry is through the RSRO Program. The new receivers also work at 4-band (54–86 MHz), and new feeds will have been deployed on all VLA antennas by the time of the 2019B semester.  Both 4-band and P-band can be observed simultaneously, but access to the 4-band system is only available through the RSRO program.

      Commensal Observing Systems at the VLA

      There are two commensal systems on the VLA that may take data at the same time as your proposed observation.  The first is the VLITE system, which will take data at P-band during regular observations that use bands other than P-band. The VLITE system is deployed on fifteen VLA antennas.  Observers wishing to gain access to the commensal VLITE data taken during their VLA observations should follow the instructions on the VLITE web page for doing so.  The second is the realfast system, which takes data at very fast dump rates in an effort to detect Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs).  This system is still in development, but we expect it to be observing during the 2019B semester.

      Proposal and Observation Preparation

      Proposal preparation and submission are via the Proposal Submission Tool (PST) at NRAO Interactive Services. Use of the PST requires registration in the NRAO User Database. There are various tools and documentation to help users in this process. Descriptions of all updated documentation and tools, along with an outline of the steps required to write a proposal, are available at the Guide to Proposing for the VLA web page.

      When constructing sessions in the PST, proposers should be cognizant of their use by the Time Allocation Committee (TAC). Specifically taking into account the time available as a function of LST, software will assign an initial scheduling priority to each session in each proposal, which can be modified by the TAC if they desire. The assigned scheduling priority will depend on the linear-rank score of the proposal from its scientific review, the LSTs involved in the session (daytime is harder to accommodate than nighttime, for instance), the predicted atmospheric conditions for observing over that LST range at the time of year of the configuration, the total time requested in the session, and the competition from other proposals requesting time at similar LSTs. Please see this description for guidance on how to set up sessions in the PST, and this document for a complete description of the VLA Prioritizer (the software that generates the initial scheduling priorities for all sessions that are subsequently used by the TAC to derive the final priorities).

      All approved VLA observations are set up using the Observation Preparation Tool (OPT). Most, if not all, projects will be observed dynamically; users should submit scheduling blocks before the start of the configuration to maximize the opportunity of them being observed. Advice on the optimal length of scheduling blocks and other useful information may be found at the Observing FAQ web page.

      Information about VLA capabilities, proposal preparation and submission, observing strategies, and calibration overhead can be found in the VLA Observational Status Summary, at the Guide to Proposing for the VLA, and at the Guide to Observing with the VLA. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions are contained in these proposing and observing guides. Questions may also be directed to the NRAO Helpdesk.