Exploring the Solar System is Made Easier with Bohn Refrigeration Equipment

Astronomers and astrophysicists require advanced equipment when it comes to observing far away galaxies. Located 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is home to 28 of the world’s most highly developed radio telescopes that scientists use to explore the mysteries of our solar system. As a premier research facility for radio astronomy, NRAO builds and operates sophisticated and complex radio telescopes.

What does Heatcraft Refrigeration Products’ Bohn fluid coolers and condensers have to do with astronomy and physics?

NRAO operates the Extended Very Large Array (EVLA), an imaging telescope made up of 28 antennas located in the searing plains of Saint Augustin, where temperatures can reach above 100 degrees during the summer months. These extreme conditions can damage and potentially destroy the observatory’s highly sensitive equipment, and that’s where Bohn Refrigeration products really make a difference.

With global warming on the rise, and the need to continually expand the observatory’s capabilities, experts at NRAO made the decision to upgrade the EVLA refrigeration systems to ensure the longevity and protection of the advanced telescopes. NRAO HVAC Specialist Shane Baca and NRAO electrical engineer Bob Broilo contacted United Refrigeration, a Bohn Refrigeration wholesaler, to take on the extensive system overhaul.

United Refrigeration representative John Urban worked closely with Baca and Broilo to address NRAO’s specific cooling needs. Without proper refrigeration, the telescopes would overheat and thermally shut down, corrupting important incoming data.

“Temperature stability of each antenna is crucial to the function of the EVLA, and the new refrigeration systems would have to maintain a specific internal environment in order to ensure the correct function of the system as a whole,” explained Urban.

To ultimately help improve the antenna’s precise cooling needs, Urban recommended switching from air-to-air cooling systems, to air-to-water cooling systems. This change would ensure consistent temperature stability of the high-tech electronics.

“Each of NRAO’s 28 antennas are housed in two-level, 14 foot octagon-shaped rooms. The first challenge was to find a fluid cooler that could accommodate each room’s specifications,” said Urban.

Not only did each of the antennas need an individual refrigeration system, but each condenser needed to be mounted on the exterior of the dish so that when the room tilted, the unit would move in tandem with the antenna, acting as one complete structure.

“The observatory has been using Bohn equipment since the facility opened and was happy with the product and service. I had no doubt that we could depend on Bohn to develop the perfect customized system for the job, I contacted Ray Kapaun, a Heatcraft Refrigeration Products’ representative, to discuss equipment selection,” said Urban.

Kapaun worked with Urban and NRAO representatives to develop a customized fluid cooler to fulfill the requirements for the job.

“One of our main goals was to ensure the Bohn system could withstand the harsh Saint Augustin elements,” said Kapaun, “We developed an efficient fluid cooler specifically engineered for outdoor installations and are very impressed with its ability to withstand the exterior climate.”

Constructed of aluminum and heavy gauge galvanized steel, the condenser is fully protected from climate corrosion. Fully baffled fan sections prevent wind-milling while balanced fans feature heavy gauge aluminum blades riveted to plated steel spiders. A patented cross-fin coil with staggered seamless copper tubes was expanded into full collar aluminum fins for high heat transfer efficiency. The wide fin spacing minimizes fouling from any foreign materials. The units were pressure tested, dehydrated and pressurized prior to shipment to the observatory.

The first customized Bohn fluid cooler was installed by NRAO’s in-house refrigeration department experts in March 2004. Shortly after, NRAO signed an agreement with Bohn to replace five condensers per year over the following five years. By 2009, all 28 units were replaced with the new Bohn systems.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better system,” stated Shane Baca. “Heatcraft Refrigeration Products makes it easy for organizations like us to create customized units that meet unique refrigeration requirements. The Bohn coolers have been operating for over a year and a half now and we’ve been completely satisfied with the performance.”

“The EVLA is a major component in discovering new information about our world, and these units help keep our systems running as smoothly as possible,” states Broilo. “Our solar system is being explored more efficiently thanks in small part to Bohn refrigeration equipment.”