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Protective Packaging Provides Corrosion Protection for the World’s Largest Radio Telescope (ALMA)

When it comes to protecting and transporting the world's largest telescope, effective protective packaging and corrosion protection is critical.

Dallas, TX, October 25, 2011 --( It was recently announced that the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is officially open for business in the Chilean Andes. The new observation tool will consist of an array of 64 radio telescopes, each linked together to make up the world's largest radio telescope. The $1.3 billion radio telescope, a collaboration of many nations and organizations, will help astronomers and scientists explore some of the coldest and most distant objects in the universe.

To give an idea of the complexity and size of the array: According to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), AALMA is a complex of 40-foot (12-meter) radio telescopes sitting at an elevation of 16,500 feet on the Chajnantor plateau in northern Chile. These individual antennas each pick up light in the millimeter/submillimeter range — about 1,000 times longer than visible-light wavelengths. The antennas, each weighing about 100 tons, can be moved to different positions in order to reconfigure the ALMA telescope. This repositioning will be carried out by two custom-designed transporters, each of which is some 33 feet wide, 66 feet long, and has 28 wheels.

The 12-meter-diameter antennas are manufactured by General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies in Kilgore, Texas. So how does General Dynamics go about protecting and transporting such valuable, enormous, and expensive equipment from Texas all the way to the Andes Mountains in Chile? Very carefully. Everything must absolutely be done right the first time. Moisture and other environmental elements can cause corrosion and deterioration of these expensive antennas, especially during international transport. Thus, effective protective packaging and corrosion protection is critical.

General Dynamics charged Protective Packaging Corporation with the challenge of packaging and transporting the very large antenna, nicknamed "The Blob," that was to become the first unit in the ALMA. Protective Packaging was to design and install packaging for the 161,000 lbs unit that would provide protection against moisture and corrosion during transport over the road from Kilgore to Houston, over the water from Houston to Santiago, Chile and over the road again from Santiago to the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

The protective packaging and corrosion protection work was performed at the General Dynamics manufacturing facility in Kilgore, Texas. Protective Packaging first installed a fully enveloping moisture barrier bag of a material called PROPAK 7000 and then covered the device with a reinforced tarp material called Armorlon AT-200. Finally, the protected assembly was placed upon a substantial steel "lifting frame" by the manufacturer's rigging dept. This wrapping process ensures corrosion-proof arrival at the site 100% guaranteed.

Over 16,500 feet up in the Chilean Andes, the world’s most complex radio telescope is being constructed that could revolutionize our understanding the origins of the universe. Currently, ALMA is only one-third complete, but is already the most powerful telescope of its kind. Protective Packaging has been responsible and successful with protective packaging and corrosion protection solutions for the ALMA antennas for international transport over the last few years and we intend to keep doing it—for the sake of understanding our universe.

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Protective Packaging Corporation
Than Nguyen

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