• Proposal 527: Risk Mitigation for the ALMA Correlator Upgrade (General)

  • Reviewer 1

Grade: 7

Executive Summary:This project proposes to retire a significant risk in a proposed ALMA correlator upgrade, testing some components in-situ during a schedule outage variously described as Aug 2017 (Abstract) and Feb 2018 (sec 4.0).

Lacasse, Richard - Risk Mitigation for the ALMA Correlator Upgrade

ALMA Development Review

1. Alignment with NA ALMA Partnership strategic goals; As a piece of a larger correlator upgrade program, this proposal touches on several Strategic Goals. The new correlator would presumably provide a number of improvements (1.x), and testing this subcomponent on site would certainly allow development of improved procedures and an improvement of system reliability (2.x) prior to a full-scale upgrade. A new system would reduce operating costs (3.x). Most of these, however, apply to the broader program. The specific risk mitigation requested here only directly touches on (2.x). No mention is made of incorporating younger partners or staff, nor of additional institutions across North America (5.x). Inclusion of a Chilean co-I does help strengthen the ALMA partnership (4.x).

2. Strength of the scientific case for the proposed ALMA upgrade concept; Comment on the relevance to the †̃ALMA 2030â€TM development documents. The upgraded correlator as a whole is well supported by a number of science cases, but there is no specific scientific value to this proposal on its own.

3. Quality of the upgrade conceptual design;

The proposed project is straightforward and makes sense in the context of the broader upgrade request. As a stand-alone, however, it makes effectively no sense.

4. Readiness for production in the context of the ALMA Development Plan (the aim is to support a range of upgrades including both those which can be implemented rapidly and those requiring longer-term research and development); This is a late-stage proposal, aiming to incorporate hardware into the ALMA system and retire risks to a production proposal.

5. Strength of the consortium organization (if applicable); The proposing organization is NRAO, so I have no concerns about the abilities of the institution. Barring larger funding questions, they are in a strong position to make this contribution.


6. Qualifications of the key personnel of the Study; The proposers who have a track record in this area, having worked on and delivered the original correlator. They have all the necessary experience & expertise.

7. Technical expertise, past experience (also in series production, if relevant) and technical facilities in the Institutes taking part in the Study; No concerns here, the team has executed a correlator in the past and I believe they have the needed facilities and experience.

8. Assessment of the level of risk inherent in the design; The primary risk in this proposal is that if the broader proposal is not granted, it becomes completely unjustified. Indeed, the whole thing is explicitly intended as risk mitigation for the other proposal. 
 9. Strength of the Scientific Team supporting the Study; No science team is mentioned. 
 10. Level of support guaranteed by the Institutes; One staff member (Escoffier) is indicated at $50k in-kind value, though is quoted as working 5% of 12mo, an equivalent yearly salary of $800k? This seems hard to credit. 
 11. Budgeted cost of the Study; The costs seem significant as a risk mitigation but plausible given the overall scope of a correlator upgrade.

  • Reviewer 2

Grade: Very Good (2.5)

Title: Risk Mitigation for the ALMA Correlator Upgrade (PI: Lacasse)

1. Alignment with NA ALMA Partnership strategic goals;

The proposed Study is aligned with at least two of the strategic goals, proposing to set the stage for improved ALMA hardware and working with ALMA partners to continue the development of ALMA. Less clear is how well the proposed study strengthens the NA radio astronomy community.

2. Strength of the scientific case for the proposed ALMA upgrade concept; Comment on the relevance to the "ALMA 2030" development documents.

While a correlator upgrade is not mentioned specifically in the ALMA 2030 Roadmap, an upgraded correlator is likely to be required, if not enabling, for many of the development paths laid out in the ALMA 2030 Roadmap. In that context, this reviewer judges the proposed work to be aligned with the ALMA 2030 Roadmap.

With respect to the science case, the proposal describes a broad variety of improved observations that could result from an upgraded correlator. Further, while this reviewer has not seen the previous correlator upgrade project (PMD-485), that project was approved and this science case is described as being identical to that one.

3. Quality of the upgrade conceptual design;

This aspect is more difficult to judge. The specific details of the proposed work all appear to be technically sound, and, in some aspects, leverage previous ALMA development work. Less clear is how this proposed work, which is described as risk mitigation, fits into the larger correlator upgrade. The proposal would have been helped immensely by a figure (or table) illustrating the various sub-systems of the proposed ALMA correlator, their levels of readiness for advancing to the full upgrade project, and which sub-systems are addressed by this proposal.

4. Readiness for production in the context of the ALMA Development Plan (the aim is to support a range of upgrades including both those which can be implemented rapidly and those requiring longer-term research and development);

This proposed Study is described as being part of the risk mitigation for a larger ALMA correlator upgrade. As such, it is clearly a slightly longer range research effort, but it seems well aligned with the overall goals of the ALMA Development Plan.

5. Strength of the consortium organization (if applicable);

The proposed consortium for this Study has both strengths and weaknesses. Only NRAO (and JAO) individuals are listed as the PI and Co-I. However, there is a listed (but only modestly explained) dependency on the Universite de Bordeaux. In one respect, a partnership with the Universite de Bordeaux is aligned with the strategic goal of strengthening the ALMA partnership, by joining efforts between North America and Europe. However, the lack of detail on the actual dependencies, and means of aligning work between NRAO and the Universite de Bordeaux translates to a risk for the proposed Study (that the proposers acknowledge).

6. Qualifications of the key personnel of the Study;

The various personnel for this Study are well qualified for the proposed work, with previous engagement in a host of radio astronomy digital backend processing, including previous work on the ALMA correlator.

One concern is that the technical staff involved includes a retired individual, which is noted as a risk. While not described explicitly in this proposal, it is hoped that that individual's involvement is part of a larger plan to transfer "corporate knowledge" about radio astronomy design practices. If that is not the case, then the reliance on a retired individual is definitely a personnel risk for this Study and the larger correlator upgrade effort.

7. Technical expertise, past experience (also in series production, if relevant) and technical facilities in the Institutes taking part in the Study;

Only the NRAO is directly involved in this proposed Study. As the North American lead for ALMA, NRAO is well equipped to conduct this Study.

8. Assessment of the level of risk inherent in the design;

Low. This work leverages previous development work and is in fact designed to lower future risk.

9. Strength of the Scientific Team supporting the Study;

No explicit scientific team is identified. Given that this work is part of a larger ALMA correlator upgrade, which presumably has had scientific input in placing requirements, the lack of a science team for this Study is not judged problematic.

10. Level of support guaranteed by the Institutes;

See #7 above. No in-kind contributions from any institute is identified, but NRAO likely has the required facilities.

11. Budgeted cost of the Study;

The budget appears reasonable, and it even has sub-divisions for different components. If an insufficient budget is available to fund all of the work, it would still be possible to advance some of the work.

However, some of the justification for the travel is not clear. Travel to ALMA for the described testing seems well motivated. Less clear is why travel is required to complete the design of the Final Adder Board.

  • Reviewer 3

proposal 527; reviewer 3

Grade: 1 (excellent)

Rish Mitigation for the ALMA Correlator Upgrade

1. Alignment with NA ALMA Partnership strategic goals; -- Excellent.

2. Strength of the scientific case for the proposed ALMA upgrade concept; Comment on the relevance to the ‘ALMA 2030’ development documents. -- Doubling the bandwidth of the correlator will benefit a large fraction of ALMA projects. Additionally, the new correlator will provide higher spectral resolution, important for probling the gas motions in quiescent molecular clouds; will allow observations on 300 km baselines, and will improve the sensitivity by allowing 4-bit correlations. This proposal is a collection of small projects that can be done now and will reduce risks for the upgrade. Continuing funding for this work is important to keep key engineers engaged in the project.

3. Quality of the upgrade conceptual design; -- Excellent. The proposal includes a very detailed project plan and risk assessment.

4. Readiness for production in the context of the ALMA Development Plan (the aim is to support a range of upgrades including both those which can be implemented rapidly and those requiring longer-term research and development); -- Good.

5. Strength of the consortium organization (if applicable); -- Excellent.

6. Qualifications of the key personnel of the Study; -- Excellent.

7. Technical expertise, past experience (also in series production, if relevant) and technical facilities in the Institutes taking part in the Study; -- Excellent.

8. Assessment of the level of risk inherent in the design; -- Low to moderate.

9. Strength of the Scientific Team supporting the Study; -- Excellent.

10. Level of support guaranteed by the Institutes; -- Good.

11. Budgeted cost of the Study; -- OK.

  • Reviewer 13

Grade: 2.0

Title: Risk Mitigation for the ALMA Correlator Upgrade

1. Alignment with NA ALMA Partnership strategic goals;

Comment: The risk mitigation in this proposal supports the underlying correlator proposal, which has a goal very well aligned with NA ALMA strategic goals.

2. Strength of the scientific case for the proposed ALMA upgrade concept; Comment on the relevance to the ‘ALMA 2030’ development documents.

Comment: Insofar as it supports bandwidth expansion, the proposal is very well aligned with ALMA 2030 and the relevant science cases for bandwidth expansion.

3. Quality of the upgrade conceptual design; Comment: The risk mitigation in this proposal improves the quality of the conceptual design of the underlying Project proposal.

4. Readiness for production in the context of the ALMA Development Plan (the aim is to support a range of upgrades including both those which can be implemented rapidly and those requiring longer-term research and development);

Comment: Again the risk mitigation herein improves the production readiness of the underlying Project proposal.

5. Strength of the consortium organization (if applicable); Comment: This is the right consortium for this work. My major concern is it is not future looking, as two of the three key personnel are either retired, or near retirement. They will eventually no longer be available for one reason or another, in the event of which the upgraded correlator will lack the oversight of personnel who really understand how it works.

6. Qualifications of the key personnel of the Study;

Comment: see comment for 5.

7. Technical expertise, past experience (also in series production, if relevant) and technical facilities in the Institutes taking part in the Study;

Comment: The personnel are exceptionally well versed in the present ALMA correlator, since they are the same team that built it. They could not have better technical expertise for this project.

8. Assessment of the level of risk inherent in the design;

Comment: The purpose of the proposal is risk mitigation. The risk of this development is low by definition. However again, this project is not forward looking.

9. Strength of the Scientific Team supporting the Study;

Comment: Not applicable.

10. Level of support guaranteed by the Institutes;

Comment: Not applicable.

11. Budgeted cost of the Study;

Comment: Appropriate and well justified.

-- AlWootten - 2017-07-19
Topic revision: r1 - 2017-07-19, AlWootten
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