ALMA will produce a quantum leap forward with respect to existing ground based mm and sub-mm wave telescopes in terms of both spatial resolution and sensitivity. However, powerful as it is, the current ALMA project does not take full advantage of its vast size and excellent site location, due to time and budget constraints. The most critical technologies, those which concern front-end receivers, were frozen at a relatively early stage in the project development. Thus, there exists considerable opportunity for future enhancement of the array capability in terms of performance and, correspondingly, in science output. ALMA will also require the backup of existing large mm and sub-mm telescopes for complementary observations for which it is not optimized (e.g. for large scale mapping). The performance of those needs to be enhanced.

The AETHER consortium, containing Europe's foremost mm-wave instrumentation development laboratories, is ready to meet this challenge. Several consortium laboratories have played a leading role in the development and construction of the current ALMA receivers and consequently possess considerable relevant heritage and experience. All consortium members are pursuing, under the auspices of RadioNet, a broad mm and sub-mm wave (terahertz) detector development programme that has made a very significant contribution towards maintaining European mm/sub-mm wave research at the highest level in this critical area and that has contributed towards the improved performance of European mm/sub-mm telescopes, such as the IRAM 30-m telescope, PdBI and APEX.

The primary objective will be to develop a new generation of instrumentation to significantly extend the performance and scope of ALMA and of large existing European mm/sub-mm facilities in terms of operational frequency and sensitivity, thereby advancing ALMA science. Achievement of the objective will ensure that Europe is placed on an equal competitive footing with North America and East Asia with respect to securing future ALMA enhancement funding, and more generally will maintain the global position of the European mm and sub-mm wave community in terms of technical and scientific leadership.

AETHER will develop innovative heterodyne detectors and devices that yield a maximum gain sensitivity, bandwidth - including operation to beyond 1 THz - and mapping speed for ALMA. These developments will simultaneously enhance the performance of the large European mm/sub-mm observatory facilities, raising them to a position where they truly complement ALMA in terms of scientific return.

The leader of this activity is Michel Guelin.

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