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Division of Astronomical Sciences

Management and Operation of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is soliciting proposals for the management and operation of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC). The successful proposal will be awarded as a cooperative agreement with a duration of five years beginning October 1, 2011. As enabled by the world-class observational facilities of the Arecibo Observatory, NAIC provides instrumentation in radio astronomy, planetary radar, and space and atmospheric sciences. The awardee will work closely with NSF and the scientific community to ensure that NAIC continues to support, sustain and advance frontier science as enabled by AO's unique research capabilities and as promoted through a culture of excellence. The full program solicitation, including program requirements and proposal preparation instructions, is available at


Upon award of the next cooperative agreement for management and operations of NAIC, NSF will remove NAIC from the master list of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). This action has been taken in response to a recommendation from the Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) and the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS), which jointly support NAIC as a center of excellence for multidisciplinary research and education.

The recommendation to remove NAIC from the FFRDC master list was made after careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages that accompany this designation. Without restrictions imposed by FFRDC status, the NAIC managing organization will have greater freedom to establish partnerships beyond those permitted by government regulations applicable to FFRDCs. Removal of the FFRDC designation will also allow NAIC scientific staff to submit proposals in response to Federal agency requests for proposals (RFPs) or other funding opportunities for activities outside the scope supported by NSF, as consistent with the eligibility criteria and agency policies applicable to each RFP. Within the negotiated framework of the cooperative agreement with NSF, NAIC would also be free to pursue revenue-earning opportunities in the private sector. AST and AGS concur that NAIC should have as much flexibility as possible to present a compelling, sustainable vision for NAIC that supports an optimal suite of user-driven research and education activities through effective structures for management and operations.

AST and AGS understand that FFRDC status carries a perception in the scientific community that a facility or center is highly valued by the Federal government. However, NSF supports a broad range of long-standing centers and facilities that do not carry FFRDC status. Decertification of NAIC as an FFRDC reflects a change only to the Federal administrative regulations applicable to NAIC and does not imply any change in NAIC's continuing status as a center of excellence for multidisciplinary scientific research. By giving the managing organization greater flexibility to explore new partnerships, the advantages provided by this change in status substantially outweigh the disadvantages. We anticipate many exciting opportunities as NAIC staff and stakeholders respond to this change of status.

Ralph A. Gaume, (703) 292-4335
Room 1045S

Elizabeth A. Pentecost, (703) 292-4907
Room 1030S

National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) is a visitor-oriented national research center, supported by NSF and focusing on radio and radar astronomy and atmospheric sciences.   NAIC's headquarters in Ithaca, NY, are operated and managed for NSF by Cornell University. Its principal observing facilities are 19 kilometers south of the city of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. NAIC provides telescope users with a wide range of instrumentation for research and observation. The center has a permanent staff of scientists, engineers, and technicians who are available to help visiting investigators with their observation programs.

NAIC's principal astronomical research instrument is a 305-meter fixed spherical radio/radar telescope, the world's largest single radio wavelength reflector. Its frequency capabilities range from 25 megahertz to 10 gigahertz. Transmitters include an S-band (2,380-megahertz) radar system for planetary studies and a 430-megahertz radar system for aeronomy studies.  NAIC's outreach activities include a popular Visitor's Center with interactive exhibits, the only science-oriented facility of its type in Puerto Rico, and summer workshops for science teachers from across the island.

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