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New Dish

Image: 
Image of the new dish
Sue Mitchell

A landmark antenna at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will be removed and replaced by a similar one during spring break week in March 2017.

After more than 25 years of service, the pale blue antenna dish on the roof of the Elvey Building will retire. In the 10-meter dish's place will go a 9-meter antenna that will be colored Nanook blue.

The project also will replace an instrument that had not operated since hardware within the antenna broke in 2012.

The more capable new antenna will retrieve scientific information from polar-orbiting satellites that pass overhead as often as 11 times per day.

Crews will remove the old antenna and install the new from March 16-19, 2017. Because of the crane work on Koyukuk Drive, the road will be closed for that period, and access to Elvey and West Ridge Research buildings will be limited.

The new antenna will have the same capabilities as the two 11-meter antennas in the forest to the west of the Akasofu Building. With those, staff members of the Alaska Satellite Facility Ground Station communicate with satellites every hour of every day. On a typical day, technicians will track 10 or more satellites with the dishes. By pointing an antenna in the right direction, they can turn a satellite's transmit function on to receive its data.

The satellites, orbiting Earth about 400 miles overhead, transmit data to the Alaska Satellite Facility during the 15 minutes or so they pass within a direct line-of-sight of the dishes. In a single day, technicians receive information on Earth's winds, gravity fields, noctilucent clouds, the atmosphere, water and many other features. They send the data to other centers where people make it useful for scientists.

Workers from a company called Viasat are making the new antenna and shipping it by truck to Fairbanks. Like the old antenna, the new one will sit on the strongest part of the eight-story Elvey Building, the roof buttressed by the elevator shaft that runs through its core.

The new antenna will allow NASA to get even more satellite data from the UAF West Ridge location. The Alaska Satellite Facility Ground Station is the only university-based member of the Near-Earth Network. UAF is one of more than a dozen ground stations associated with the network, managed by researchers at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Virginia.

NASA officials will take the old antenna, installed on top of the Elvey Building in 1987 and in operation since 1991, and use it for spare parts