but I am not surprised they have funding problems

Search for alien signals stalls for want of cash
Microsoft co-founder withholds millions from radio telescope.
Geoff Brumfiel

The Allen Telescope Array will consist of 350 satellite dishes — if funds can be found.

© Seth Shostak/SETI Institute

An ambitious radio array project that will join the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is running into money problems.

Construction of the Allen Telescope Array, named after its chief benefactor, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen, will halt at the end of this year unless further funding is found. Allen is currently withholding millions because the project has failed to recruit other donors.

"Down here in the trenches it's really terribly worrisome," says Jill Tarter, director of the privately funded SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which is developing the project.

The array, which is being built at Hat Creek Radio Observatory in California, was conceived in the late 1990s as a cheap way to search for extraterrestrial radio transmissions. For about $25 million, researchers believed they could build a radio telescope with 350 commercially available satellite dishes. The price went up to $43 million in 2003, when scientists decided to upgrade the dishes and other components, allowing the array to do radio astronomy as well as searching for alien signals.

In 2000, Allen gave the project's research budget $11.5 million. He pledged $13.5 million more for construction in 2003 — but the money was contingent on the SETI Institute raising another $16 million in private funding (see Nature 428, 358; 2004).

To date, the institute has raised less than $9 million. Allen is withholding $3.85 million until the institute can "meet its contractual obligations", says Jason Hunke, a spokesman for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, based in Seattle, Washington.