The Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) Project has determined that the highly demanding task of receiver front-end integration should be undertaken within three Front-End Integration Centres (FEICs) located within Europe, North America and East Asia. RAL has been selected by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to host the European Centre and the facility has been established within RAL Space.
The receiver integration process involves the unification of a variety of critical subassembly units, some of which are state-of-the-art in terms of design and performance, into a receiver front-end assembly that provides a crucial element of the ALMA instrument, namely the detection of the faint radio signals emanating from space. In addition to assembly, an integrated receiver system must be thoroughly tested and demonstrated to be of adequate operational integrity and performance prior to shipment to the ALMA Observatory site located in Chile.
The integration and test process is a demanding and difficult task, never before undertaken on such an extensive scale, and one that requires the development of bespoke integration and test facilities, plus the use of skilled and experienced staff with particular expertise in the discipline of millimetre wave technology. The FEIC is operated under the auspices of the Millimetre Wave Technology Group (MMT) and has now completed the delivery of 26 receiver assemblies to the ALMA site. The last Front End (SN 70) left the EU FEIC on February 8th 2013.