The Very Large Array (VLBA) is a large network of antennas that operate as a single telescope.
The VLA is located on the planes of San Augstin in New Mexico. They provide a large, flat, and high altitude area that is well suited to the operation.
A custom built transporter regularly moves the antennas around on a double railroad track. The transporter is unusual in its ability to make a right turn. It will stop at the cross track, lift itself up with some hydraulic feet, turn the bogies 90 degrees, and sits back down. This was substantially less expensive than using traditional switch tracks for every antenna pad.
Looking over the edge
The view over the side of the dish can be a little frightening. Remember that it is safer to just hold a camera over the edge.
The VLA antennas sit on a fixed base and have a bearing to allow for rotation. A large geared drive system then moves the antenna. Be sure to lock out the antenna drives prior to putting your hand near the gears.
The focus and rotation module (FRM) of the VLA antennas differs only slightly from that of the VLBA. They both serve the same purpose: position a subreflector to focus the beam on one of the receivers.
Feed horn defrosters
Being at an elevation of about 7000ft the VLA has cold winters. Frost, snow, and ice on the feed horn will interfere with the signal. So defrosters are installed to clear it off.
VLA Electronics Rack
Each receiver cabin has a couple racks of support electronics. Each antenna has to correctly synchronize its clock to the master clock, it has to receive and convert the RF signal, and it has to send the signal to the correlator.
In the original VLA an analog signal was sent back via waveguide. With the EVLA upgrade the signal is now digitized in the antenna and sent back over fiber optic cables.
NRAO designs and builds most of the receivers used in the antennas. Three of them can be seen here.
Spare modules are always kept on hand, and failed modules are diagnosed and repaired. With the recent EVLA upgrade project many of the older electronics were replace with newer ones, so many of these modules are now outdated.
Old VLA correlator room door
Radio interference is a constant concern at the VLA. While a lot can be removed by the correlator, it is still very important to minimize interference from site electronics. Modern digital electronics generate large amounts of interference at the frequencies the VLA observes at. Shielded rooms such as this are often used to house station computers, preventing interference.
VLA RF test chamber
The VLA has a test chamber for determining what interference a device emits. This chamber uses a combination of reflective walls and an omnidirectional antenna.