Management Update (August 28, 2020) by Director Eng. Francisco Cordova



August 28, 2020

Dear AO Community,

First, we would like to thank you for all the words of encouragement and support we have received over the past 2 weeks. We are honored to have you as part of our community and sincerely appreciate your interest in the facility and willingness to help in the recovery efforts.

As promised here is an update on where we stand today. We remain committed to bringing the facility back online as soon as possible. We have been coordinating closely with NSF and NASA, and have established a team that is working on an action plan that focuses on the safety of the staff, and the facility.

Telescope Status

The telescope has been moved into its “stow/safe” position, typically used for hurricane events, and the safety pins have been installed. This position not only reduces the loads going to the cables on tower 4, but also is the safest overall to ensure no movement of the azimuth during heavy wind events (like hurricanes).

We have performed basic functional tests on our receivers, and believe there was no damage to the electronics in the dome. The S Band radar, has not been tested yet.

We have been closely monitoring the platform, cable structure and towers using a variety of approaches: from laser ranges, to drones, to laser surveys and visual inspections. At this point we have not seen additional changes in any of the aforementioned elements, and thus believe we have a level of stability in the structure. This is good news.


Over the past two weeks we have met with more than four dozen different experts in suspension cables fabrication and installation, structural analysis and forensic investigation, among others. You all know what a unique facility we have and their counsel is critical. We would like to thank the many experts who willingly provided their advice and recommendations to the AO management team. Your support has been instrumental.

Unfortunately, we do not yet have a cause for the failure of the cable. In order to determine root cause, we need to retrieve a portion of the failed cable and socket for forensic analysis and investigation. These components cannot be retrieved until we have a comprehensive safety plan for the personnel that will be doing the work. Because safety is our number one priority, this is taking some time. A detailed structural analysis of the current state of the telescope is being performed, which will aid in the creation of the safety plan.

Once the plan is complete we expect to remove the cable and socket. With those pieces in hand, a full forensic investigation will follow. It will focus on determining the cause of the failure, and whether other cables are expected to have a similar problems in the near future. This will help us frame the scope of a temporary repair and a permanent repair, along with overall costs and schedule. We have hired several world-renowned companies to lead the recovery efforts and support the Observatory in this process. Each one brings their unique expertise into the overall repair effort.

The temporary repair plan is to first stabilize the structure, and secure the remaining cables (if they are found to be suspect during the investigation). This will also provide an extra layer of safety as we inch closer to the peak of hurricane season.

We cannot yet confirm a timeline for restarting operations, as there is still more information needed before making decisions. However, our scientific staff remains committed to supporting projects, and will also focus on accelerating publications and proposals for future facility enhancements. They are also available to provide any information that you may need to prepare observing proposals for the semester 2021A, the call is currently open now and its deadline has been postponed by one week, to September 10th. If we are not operational by then, we will notify award recipients. But right now, we just don’t have enough information to know.

We are working diligently, but to do it right, it will take time. We thank you in advance for your patience and support as we move forward.

We will continue providing the community with updates on the facility and its recovery. We anticipate sending you the next update once we know what caused the cable failure. We are not sure how long that will be, but as soon as we know, you will know.

Together we weather these unprecedented times and get Arecibo operational again.

Francisco Cordova
Director - Arecibo Observatory
University of Central Florida

Arecibo Media Contact
Ricardo Correa
Universidad Ana G. Méndez (UAGM)
787-878-2612 ext. 615

Keywords: arecibo, observatory, management, update, repairs, cable, replacement,