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New Mexico State University

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Officials of four universities to sign agreement for operating new observatory in New Mexico

A new observatory that will track missiles by day and study the skies by night will move a step closer to reality Tuesday, April 18, as officials of four universities gather at New Mexico State University for the signing of an agreement to operate the facility.

The $40 million Magdalena Ridge Observatory, to be located in the mountains west of Socorro, N.M., will be operated by a consortium of four universities -- New Mexico State, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico Highlands and the University of Puerto Rico -- in collaboration with the U.S. military.

U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen, R-N.M., will be present at the 10 a.m. signing ceremony to discuss Congressional funding for the project. NMSU President William Conroy, Tech President Daniel Lopez, Highlands President Selimo Rael and a representative of the University of Puerto Rico will sign a partnership agreement for overseeing the MRO project. The event will take place in the Otero Room of Corbett Center Student Union.

The observatory will consist of three 2.4-meter telescopes with image resolution capabilities comparable to the Hubble Space Telescope. They will be equipped with guiders, adaptive optics systems, imaging cameras and spectrometers. At least one of the telescopes also will have high-speed acquisition and tracking capability and be able to view objects at low elevations.

In addition to its academic missions, the observatory will support military research and development projects at White Sands Missile Range and Kirtland Air Force Base. The military services will have access to the facility for missile tracking and intercept observations, laser tracking, imaging of satellites, testing of instruments and other endeavors.

An appropriation of $3.5 million for MRO, initiated by Skeen, was included in the fiscal year 2000 defense appropriations measure. Total cost of the project is estimated at $40 million.

Karl Hill
April 14, 2000