Observing > Call For Proposals > NRAO Call for Proposals: Semester 2024A > VLBA, HSA, and GMVA Proposal Guide

VLBA, HSA, and GMVA Proposal Guide

Proposal submission information for the following three combinations of telescopes are detailed in individual sections below:


VLBA Proposals

The VLBA is a truly unique facility that provides unprecedented, ultra-high angular resolution for studying a wide range of astrophysical phenomenon. Sources that may be studied by the VLBA include, but are not limited to:

  • Non-thermal continuum emission, including polarimetry, from active galactic nuclei (AGN), Galactic micro-quasars, pulsars, and other sources.
  • Maser emission lines of OH (1.7 and 6.0 GHz), CH3OH (6.7 and 12.2 GHz), H2O (22 GHz), SiO (43 and 86 GHz) and other molecules, and numerous thermal absorption lines, in a variety of Galactic and extragalactic circumstances.
  • Multiple-phase-center surveys across the primary beam.
  • Parallax and proper motion via differential astrometry of a variety of stars, star-forming regions, and nearby extragalactic objects, at accuracies as good as 10 microarcsec.
  • Absolute astrometry at accuracies of ~200 microarcsec to expand the International Celestial Reference Frame.

Overall information about the VLBA is available in the VLBA Observational Status Summary (OSS); specific sections relevant to various proposal types are linked below.

VLBA proposals must be prepared and submitted using the NRAO Proposal Submission Tool (PST), accessible via NRAO Interactive Services. Use of the PST requires registration by all proposers, including co-investigators, in the NRAO User Database.

Approximately 800 hours of VLBA observing time are expected to be available for Open Skies in observing semester 2024A. In recent semesters, there has been less pressure in the GST range 0600 – 1800 hours as compared to 1800 – 0600 GST, and we expect this trend to continue.

Most approved VLBA observations are performed dynamically; for those dynamic observations, users must either submit their observing (.key) files (to vlbiobs@nrao.edu) before the beginning of the semester (February 01 or August 01 for A and B semesters, respectively), or contact the VLBA Scheduler (schedsoc@nrao.edu) before those dates to avoid a reduction in scheduling priority. Early submission of schedules maximizes the opportunity of dynamic observing and assists in the efficient scheduling of the VLBA.

VLBA Large and Filler Proposals

Large proposals (those which request 200 hours or more) are particularly encouraged and welcome on the VLBA.  Such proposals should follow the instructions for Large proposals in the NRAO & GBO Users' Policy.  Large proposals which require multi-semester observations are often supported.

Filler proposals are also encouraged – these are scientifically useful programs, preferably utilizing the lower frequency bands of the VLBA, that can be scheduled over a large range of GST, require fewer than eight VLBA stations, and use short (2 – 6 hours) scheduling blocks.  Such projects can help to fill gaps in the dynamic observing schedule.  Filler proposals can be submitted as Regular proposals or even Large proposals (the Users' Policy instructions for Large proposals still apply); either Large or Regular filler proposals can be multi-semester proposals if scientifically justified. Filler proposals should be explicitly identified as such and will normally only be considered for filler time (i.e., priority C) regardless of their ranking. See the instructions for Filler Programs in the NRAO & GBO Users' Policy for further information.

Observing Capabilities for 2024A

For the 2024A semester the General Observing (GO) capabilities are given in the Offered VLBA 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.

The GO capabilities being offered are:

4096 Mbps recording
(requires DDC data system)
  • Available for the 6cm, 4cm, 1cm, 7mm, and 3mm receivers*
  • 1024 MHz polarization-summed bandwidth
  • Available for VLBA, global VLBI, VLBA+Y1, and HSA
  • We expect to be able to support this recording rate for most of the available open-skies observing time
*Note: 90cm, 50cm, 21/18cm, and 13cm bands require recording rates of 2048 Mbps or less due to their limited bandwidth
S/X Simultaneous Observations Up to 4096 Mbps recording rate (but slightly reduced sensitivity at both bands)
VLBA + Y1 Adds a single VLA antenna (Y1) to the VLBA to provide a short (~50 km) baseline to the VLBA Pt station
Multiple Phase Centers Up to 300 (or 150) phase centers at 4096 Mbps with a single correlator pass for dual polarization (or full polarization) products
Flexible Frequency Setup with the DDC data system
  • 1, 2, 4, or 8 data channels with bandwidths anywhere from 1 MHz to 128 MHz (all data channels must use the same bandwidth within an observing scan)
  • Data channels may be placed nearly anywhere in the IF
Flexible Spectral Resolution
  • Up to 4096 spectral channels per data channels for routine DiFX processing
  • Minimum spectral channel spacing of 2 Hz
Spectral Zooming
During correlation, allows the selection of a narrower frequency window to have a large number of spectral channels
Pulsar Modes
Binary gating, matched-filter gating, and pulsar binning correlation modes for pulsar observations

The VLBA operates two data systems, a Polyphase Filterbank (PFB), and a Digital Downconverter (DDC). These are described in detail in the Roach Digital Backend (RDBE) section of the VLBA OSS, which also includes suggestions for selecting the optimal observing system for various scientific goals. For the best continuum sensitivity (i.e. 4096 Mbps) at most receiver bands, or for the most flexible observing setups, the DDC is the better choice. For continuum observations using the 20cm or 13cm receiver bands, the PFB provides a setup using 2048 Mbps that can reduce the impact of prevalent radio-frequency interference (RFI). It is worth noting that while the DDC mode provides wider bandwidth (4096 Mbps recording) and tuning flexibility, the PFB mode (2048 Mbps recording) provides more accurate amplitude calibration and should be used if <10% flux density accuracy is required.

Proposals requiring significant additional correlator resources, such as multiple phase centers per field or multiple pulsar phase bins, should consider mechanisms to support the correlation without adversely affecting the throughput of other projects. These should be entered in the technical justification section of the proposal.

VLBA Shared Risk Observing

The VLBA Shared Risk Observing (SRO) program allows observers access to capabilities that are essentially commissioned, but are not well tested. The following capability is offered under the SRO program during the 2024A semester:

  • Baseband Data Copy: Limited amounts of raw data recorded at each station can be copied to user-supplied media for correlation at a different location. See the VLBA OSS SRO section for more details.

For HSA observations only: 

  • Wideband VLA for VLBI: Enables recording of VLA WIDAR continuum-mode correlations at full 2-GHz BW during VLA phased array (Y27) VLBI observations. See the HSA Station Notes for more details.

VLBA Resident Shared Risk Observing

The VLBA Resident Shared Risk Observing (RSRO) program provides users with early access to new capabilities in exchange for a period of residency in Socorro to help commission those capabilities. For example, the phased-VLA system was developed through RSRO programs. Users are encouraged to conceive and propose innovative ideas for new VLBA capabilities. Some staff suggestions can be found at the VLBA RSRO program section of the VLBA OSS. For details about participating in the RSRO program, see the RSRO Considerations section of the Submission Guidelines page in the Guide to Proposing for the VLBA.

Proposers should be aware that RSRO capabilities are generally not approved at priority A, owing to the level of risk associated with these observations.


High Sensitivity Array (HSA) Proposals

The HSA comprises the VLBA, phased VLA, GBT, and Effelsberg telescopes. Similar to the VLBA, all of the HSA stations can observe at 4096 Mbps (General Observing). The EVN Observation Planner or old EVN Calculator can select 4096 Mbps for HSA sensitivity estimates. Details on the HSA telescopes are documented in the HSA section of the VLBA OSS, and special considerations on proposing and observing are listed in the HSA page of the Guide to Proposing for the VLBA.

VLBI observations combining the VLBA with any one or more of the other three HSA stations can be requested in a single HSA proposal. However, separate proposals must be submitted for any non-VLBI use of any requested telescopes.

HSA proposals must be prepared and submitted using the NRAO Proposal Submission Tool (PST), accessible via NRAO Interactive Services. Use of the PST requires registration by all proposers, including co-investigators, in the NRAO User Database. The inclusion of HSA stations should be quantitatively justified in the proposal. 

HSA Station Notes

• The phased Very Large Array (Y27) will be available for HSA observing in Semester 2024A in the C (to ~ Apr 2024) and B (from ~ May 2024) configurations, and during reconfigurations. Please note that high frequencies (at receiver bands 22 GHz and above) have better phasing in the more compact configurations (C and D). High frequency phasing in the extended configurations in the summer can be quite difficult. 

Wide-band correlation of VLA-only data in parallel with the VLBI recording is offered as Shared Risk Observing (SRO). This supports standard VLA 8-bit continuum modes with a 2-GHz bandwidth. If your science requires these wide-band correlations, you should explain this and justify your need for wide-band correlations in the top box of the Technical Justification of your proposal in the PST.

The Green Bank Telescope (Gb) has significant scheduling constraints because of reduced open-skies time. Therefore, HSA proposals requesting Gb will likely have to be ranked at least in or near the top 10-15% of all AUI telescope proposals in order for GBT time to be approved. Proposers should clearly justify the need for the GBT in the text of the proposal. All proposers requesting the GBT should include any needed setup and overhead time in the total time request for their proposals. Additionally, proposers should be aware that long scheduling blocks (more than 6 hours) will be difficult to schedule owing to constraints coming from non-open skies time. Proposers are encouraged to make clear in the technical justification section any constraints about how observing time could be broken into smaller pieces without adversely affecting the proposed science; include information as relevant regarding maximum elapsed time of a split schedule and minimum scheduling block lengths.

Observations using the GBT 6-cm receiver as part of the HSA must be taken, correlated, and calibrated in full Stokes mode. Due to the large cross-talk between polarizations, only total intensity (Stokes I) data will be usable. 

Please see the GBT proposal call for receiver availability, time availability, and other relevant factors regarding the GBT's participation in HSA observations.

• The Effelsberg (Eb) 100-m telescope supports both the PFB and DDC observing systems available on the VLBA. Consult this web page for more detailed information about the Eb HSA station.


Global mm VLBI Array (GMVA) Proposals

GMVA proposals submitted for the semester 2024A deadline will be considered for scheduling in 2024 Session I (April 18 – 23), or later sessions.

Complete information on the GMVA is available at the GMVA website. Ongoing special considerations are documented in the GMVA section of the VLBA OSS; new features and/or special cases are cited here.

As noted in the HSA section above, GBT time available for VLBI has been reduced due to its new partnership arrangements.

GMVA proposals must be prepared and submitted using the NRAO Proposal Submission Tool (PST), accessible via NRAO Interactive Services. Use of the PST requires registration by all proposers, including co-investigators, in the NRAO User Database. The inclusion of the GBT in a GMVA proposal should be quantitatively justified. The KVN, or the Greenland Telescope (GLT) must be specified by entering "KVN" or "GLT" as "Other" entries in the PST. Observations at 7mm with the VLBA antennas can be scheduled as part of a GMVA program during what would otherwise be gaps in observing while other antennas are making pointing or calibration observations. Such observations can be included in GMVA proposals.

The GMVA will record at the highest bit rate which instrumentation and resources permit. Currently all telescopes will record at 4096 Mbps.

New GMVA proposals requesting phased ALMA should not be submitted at the semester 2024A deadline.  Only proposals which were re-proposed at the Cycle 10 ALMA deadline – those that were approved for GMVA Session 2023/I but failed at ALMA – will be considered.


Documentation and Assistance

Detailed information about the VLBA instrument, its capabilities, observing strategies, proposal preparation and submission, and observation preparation, can be found in the VLBA Observational Status Summary, at the Guide to Proposing for the VLBA, and at the Observing with the VLBA web pages. Questions may also be directed to the NRAO Helpdesk.