ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) is one step closer to space exploration thanks to the Air Force Research Laboratory. The university is getting $6.2 million to complete the first phase of its $30 million five-year project for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer.

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“When complete, the project will improve detection and characterization of objects at Geosynchronous Earth Orbit and beyond,” said Van Romero in a news release, vice president for research and professor of physics at NMT. “It will allow astronomers to assess the health and orientation of man-made objects and study starspots, newly forming planets around young stars, and accretion disk physics around super-massive black holes.”

With the money, New Mexico Tech says it will be able to build three telescopes and two scientific instruments in Socorro. The funding will also support a team of more than 40 scientists, engineers, students and support staff.

According to the news release from the Air Force Research Lab, the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer will be one of the largest Earth-based optical telescopes, made up of collecting mirrors that work together to produce images with resolutions equal to a single telescope of more than three football fields across. The news release states that the observatory is expected to be completed in 2026.

The news release states that NMT anticipates the facility will be available to public tours, and K-12 school programs, and will promote collaborations with universities.