The odyssey and new hopes of Herouni’s telescope - Mediamax.am

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The odyssey and new hopes of Herouni’s telescope


Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Arevik Sargsyan
Arevik Sargsyan

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery


In September 2015, Mediamax published “The scientific giant out of action” report about the “dish” that emerged near Ogrov and Tegher villages on the slopes of Mount Aragats - the radio-optical telescope, Armenia’s biggest scientific project of that time. The report mentioned that the State Committee of Science of the Armenian Ministry of Education and Science formed a commission at the special order of the president with the purpose to discuss the legal status of the telescope and the possibility of a relaunch.

 

Given that it has been three and a half years since the report, we decided to find out what has been done and if the telescope has any hope to operate again.

 

The scientific giant out of action

 

The cost of renovation

 

Samvel Harutyunyan, head of the commission formed in 2015 by the State Committee of Science, told Mediamax at that time that the relaunch of the telescope required huge investment. According to him, it could be done only via co-funding, for instance, with EU’s Horizon 2020.

 

We contacted Mr. Harutyunyan again, and he said: “The telescope has deteriorated, it is in a deplorable state now.” According to him, it will take USD 200-250 million to turn the telescope into a working structure again.

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

“It is easier to build a new telescope that to renovate the existing one. I don’t believe it is realistic to attract such a large investment. As for Horizon 2020, it is difficult to obtain funding for infrastructure via that program and they can only give around USD million. In order to get financing, the project has to be very solid, presented very well, and it needs to offer potential for cooperation with famous international organizations. I think it will be quite difficult to get the ball rolling now. Our country is not ready to cover the expenses and I do not believe any private organization or individual will invest that much. The telescope is designed to solve fundamental problems, but we can hardly expect it to contribute to economy,” said Samvel Harutyunyan. 

 

The years-long odyssey 

 

Head of the Herouni National Astronomical Center project, Associate Professor of Engineering Science Arevik Sargsyan has a different opinion. She insists that the relaunch of the radio-optical telescope is not only possible, but necessary as well. Assoc. Prof. Sargsyan has been working on this project for years with a group of friends.

Arevik Sargsyan Arevik Sargsyan

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

In summer 2017, HAYP Pop Up Gallery, a non-governmental organization specializing in mobile exhibitions held an installation in the territory of Byurakan Observatory and the radio-optical telescope (ROT-54/2.6). The goal was to display alien-related experiments as interpreted by modern artists.

 

“You see, in 1971 Byurakan hosted the world’s first conference dedicated to extraterrestrial forms of life. In 2017 Germany-based Mexican sound artist Lvis Mejía made a very interesting installation inside the telescope, which helped make it better known in the society. Every weekend people could come and watch the installation. For many, it was also an introduction to the telescope,” said Arevik Sargsyan.

 

 

At these events she met with Ashot Aslanyan, who directs Jurisdiction Armenia Foundation.  Assoc. Prof. Sargsyan learned that Mr. Aslanyan met Paris Herouni himself years ago and discussed the relaunch of the telescope with the Armenian president in 2015. The two new friends joined forces and reached an agreement with previous authorities about this project in March 2018.

 

In order to launch the reconstruction and use of Paris Herouni’s telescope for radio and astronomical purposes and make the telescope compliant with the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (EVN), they invited to Armenia Professor Leonid Gurvits, member of the International Academy of Astronautics, Head of Space Science and Innovative Applications Group at the Institute of very-long-baseline interferometry of the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (VLBI ERIC (JIVE)) in April 2018. Then Minister of Economy Suren Karayan held a discussion, at the end of which he and Professor Gurvits signed a memorandum on foundation of a separate state agency for the Aragats science center and inclusion of the telescope into the EVN in the future.

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

“ROT-54/2.6 is located in Aragats science center of the National Institute of Metrology under the Economy Ministry. It halted the works at the telescope in 2012, deciding not to do anything to operate it. All sides agreed that the telescope should be separated from the center, so we can work on relaunching it with funding from foreign investors.

 

The separation was a process close to culmination, so when we defined the issue with the foundation, we prepared a package of documents that would see the government create a new agency called Herouni National Astronomical Center (this is a working title). Then the situation changed in Armenia, as they say, the famous political events took place and we had a new minister, and the procedures related to the government decision on our project were halted too,” said Arevik Sargsyan.

 

The new hopes and the opinion of a Dutch professor

 

In September 2018, the Armenian side asked world-famous antenna expert, Professor Kees van 't Klooster to visit. He arrived and held a preliminary examination; afterwards, he gave an assessment of the current state of the telescope and the efforts it might require. The expert believes that even in its current condition, the telescope is equipped with such good technologies that it can operate after a few improvements.

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Arevik Sargsyan presented a report about the preparations for the telescope’s relaunch in Tbilisi, at the international conference “Modern superlight structures and mirror antennas”.

 

“In October, the international scientific community reiterated its interest in relaunching the Herouni telescope at the Technical and Operations Group (TOG) of the European VLBI Network (EVN). This proves that the interest is there. We have agreements with the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC, Acronis, Analysis Research and Planning for Armenia Institute (ARPA) and National Instruments Armenia. Our project will also involve scholars, postgraduates and students from master’s and bachelor’s courses of the Armenian National Polytechnic University,” she said.

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

They negotiated with Artsvik Minasyan, the Economy Minister appointed after the change of power in Armenia as well. According to Assoc. Prof. Sargsyan, that meeting reaffirmed the sides’ readiness to create a separate state agency under the government.

 

“Since then, we have been held back by the grip of bureaucracy. Someone else was appointed Economy Minister, the government wasn’t finally formed, and the Metrology Institute had different rectors. The leadership of the institute hinders the relaunch of the telescope and the efforts to open up the structure, which are all funded by us, by the way. As a result, the foundation of the center is halted, although we have the guarantees and the necessary equipment, several agreements, staff. That area already has science that we must carry on and develop, and we cannot privatize it and make it serve business interests. We are able to turn it into a center for education, science and production, parallel to which we can develop science tourism,” she noted.

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Their group met with the new Minister of Economic Development and Investments Tigran Khachatryan in December 2018 and signed a reference about the process. According to Arevik Sargsyan, it is on the minister’s table and ready to be submitted to the government.

 

A few days ago the office of Deputy Economy Minister Tigran Avinyan sent a positive response to them, saying that the government instructed the ministry to prepare the corresponding decision. Assoc. Prof. Sargsyan says they will strive to retain the content they have outlined for the center.

Photo: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Arevik Sargsyan hopes that the process will not take long and the plan for the center will finally become concrete. 

 

Marie Taryan 

Photos: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

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