The radio astronomy window is uniquely broad, spanning 5 decades of frequency and wavelength. A huge variety of different phenomena can be studied through metre, centimetre, millimetre and sub-millimetre observations. These range from the imprint of the last scattering surface on measurements of the cosmic microwave background emission, to the complex astro-chemistry observed in comets. A wide variety of radio telescopes and observing techniques are required in order to cover the entire radio spectrum. The technology used to address this huge range of wavelength, is as diverse, as it is advanced.

Radio astronomy stands on the brink of a new golden era - in particular, several large facilities are either coming on-line, are under construction or in an advanced preparatory phase e.g. APEX, LOFAR, Yebes-40m, SRT, ALMA and SKA (FP7 PrepSKA). In addition, many of the existing radio telescopes in Europe and elsewhere, have undergone, or are in the process of undergoing, significant upgrades. Examples include SCUBA-2 for the JCMT, the IRAM telescopes, e-MERLIN, EVLA and the Effelsberg 100-m telescope. In Australia and South Africa, the respective SKA pathfinders - ASKAP and MeerKAT - have each received funding of about 75 M€. All these instruments are set to transform radio astronomy in its broadest context, and the community is expected to grow significantly over the course of the following years, embracing the full extent of the wider global astronomical community.

RadioNet FP7 will build on the highly successful FP6 Integrated Infrastructure Initiative (I3) also called RadioNet. RadioNet FP6 has transformed radio astronomy in Europe. It is now natural for most, if not all, radio astronomers to think in terms of European collaboration as the way to proceed.

The general objective of RadioNet, as an Integrating Activity, is to optimise the use and development of European radio astronomy infrastructure. A primary goal will be to ensure that European researchers have access to the radio astronomical facilities they need to undertake the science they wish to pursue. Another major goal is to ensure that key technical developments in Radio Astronomy are supported on a European-wide basis, pooling the broad range of skills, resources and expertise that exists in Europe. This will provide a critical mass that will ensure that progress is not made slowly in isolation but quickly and efficiently, via a broad-based, yet well-focused, scientific and engineering collaboration.

Many of the activities (in particular the Joint Research Activities) are inter-dependent. As a collective body, RadioNet can provide the coordination and overview that is essential to ensure that these are properly matched, and that the end user, the astronomer, plays a major part in shaping the final overall product. The telescope facilities recognised of paramount interest to the astronomical community in terms of trans-national access, are also those that will benefit most directly from the JRAs.

At the same time, building on the highly positive experience of RadioNet FP6, sufficient Management & Networking mechanisms are in place to provide the level of coherent feedback and response that is absolutely vital in ensuring that the project delivers a fully integrated Radio Astronomy development programme.

The principal and specific objectives of RadioNet, supported by the defined milestones, are:

  • Providing an integrated radio astronomy network which will ensure that European scientists have access to world-class facilities;
  • Providing an integrated research and development programme which will support and enhance European radio astronomy facilities;
  • Developing a programme of networking activities which will ensure close European collaboration in engineering and science sharing their knowledge and expertise, expanding the use community,
  • Fostering the development of the next generation of astronomers in the use of the current state-of-the-art and future radio astronomy facilities;
  • Fostering the development of the next generation of engineers who will lead the design and construction of the instruments of the future;
  • Preparing the next generation of world-class radio astronomy facilities through a wide discussion of their scientific motivation, through integrated research and development initiatives, and through the planning of the future structure of European radio astronomy;
  • Promoting public knowledge of radio astronomy and public understanding of science.

These objectives will serve to strengthen the European astronomical community; to enhance the scientific output of its members, both in quality and quantity; and to ensure that it is well placed to take full advantage of the new generation of facilities under construction or being planned.

Even more important is the vital role that the RadioNet facilities must play in facilitating the emergence of the next generation of radio-astronomers. Clearly, without state-of-the art facilities in the next decade, European astronomers will not be ready to successfully compete for observing time or play a leading role in the early science opportunities presented by large global telescope projects, such as ALMA and the SKA.

The state-of-the-art in radio astronomy facilities and technology has advanced tremendously over recent years, especially since the start of the FP6 RadioNet I3. RadioNet FP7 will continue to support state-of-the-art developments in radio astronomy via a programme of Networking Activities, Transnational access, and Joint Research Activities.

Networking Activities: The Networking Activities support the broad radio astronomy community (scientists, operators and engineers) in disseminating results, initiating new collaborations, maintaining and enhancing expertise, spreading best practice and supporting the essential job of protecting the radio spectrum from non-passive users.
Transnational Access: At the core of the project sits the Transnational Access programme. Each TNA largely runs independently but there is significant overlap in the kind of science each facility addresses. For the astronomer, a common proposal tool, known as "NorthStar" (originally developed in RadioNet FP6), provides a common entry interface to many of the RadioNet TNA facilities.
Joint Research Activities: The Joint Research Activities are pushing the state-of-the-art in astronomical instrumentation forward, in order to meet the future demands and growing expectations of the community. At the base of this overall strategy, lies an experienced project management.


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