September 23, 2019

Manchin Applauds Five-Year Cooperative Agreement For Continued Operation Of the Green Bank Observatory

Washington, D.C. – Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today applauded a five-year cooperative agreement with Associated Universities, Inc., for the continued operations of the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory (GBO). The agreement will support the full breadth of observatory research, education and outreach, including operating the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.

“Scientists at the Green Bank Observatory have made significant discoveries that have helped us better understand our universe,” Senator Manchin said. “Just last week, WVU researchers helped discover a massive star that strains the limits of physics. That discovery wouldn’t have been possible without the research made possible at Green Bank. Today’s announcement of a five-year cooperative agreement for the continued operations of the Green Bank Observatory is a testament to the tremendous amount of research and data the Observatory provides to the global scientific community. For the past several years, I have been committed to ensuring Green Bank stays open for the next generation of young West Virginia scientists, and I applaud Associated Universities, Inc. and the National Science Foundation for their commitment to this incredible facility, and I will continue to support the Green Bank Observatory’s rich history of studying the cosmos.”

 Green Bank Observatory, located in Pocahontas County, was established in 1957 as the first site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).  In 2003, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope went into operation.

In 2012, NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) recommended divestment of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) from the AST portfolio, stating that its “capabilities are not as critical to New World New Horizons science goals as the higher-ranked facilities.” On November 8th, 2017, NSF published a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlining plans to reduce its scientific activities at Green Bank from approximately $13 million to $2 million per year by supplementing funding from other sources.

In response, Senator Manchin worked through the Appropriations Committee, where he oversees NSF’s budget, to include language in 2018 preventing NSF from divesting itself of facilities, instead directing it to work with federal, academic, and private sector partners to develop plans for collaboration at the site for future operations. Similarly, language was included encouraging NASA’s use of GBT to support its orbital debris monitoring activities.

In 2018, NSF showed its willingness to invest in the future of GBO by awarding $1.3 million to implement a laser ranging measurement system on GBT that will measure any surface distortions very accurately, allowing the GBT to be focused precisely both day and night. This will increase the available usable time of the telescope at its highest operating frequencies by as much as 1,000 hours every year, with a corresponding increase in the scientific output of the GBT and its utility to the US scientific community for a broad range of investigations.

On July 30, 2019, the National Science Foundation announced its decision to keep the GBO open, reversing its original position to divest itself from Green Bank and showing that NSF listened to Senator Manchin and recognized Green Bank’s importance now and for the future.