The exciting contributions to science and education made by radio astronomy over the last three decades would not have been possible without the development of radio telescopes of increasing sensitivity and power. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) is located near Brevard, North Carolina. It was built in 1962 and was a facility for tracking the spacecraft of the NASA Mercury and Gemini missions. In the late 1970’s it was used by the National Security Agency for monitoring Soviet satellite activity and was decommissioned in 1992. It was later purchased by PARI and is now used for astronomical education and research as a not-for-profit organization. The Pisgah Astronomy Research Institute is a radio telescope facility that is now an educational and research center within the University of North Carolina, www.pari.edu. The two large dishes, 26E and 26W, Figure 1, and both have 85 feet (26 meter) apertures, and were initially developed for cold war satellite tracking, but modern upgrades have helped convert them into deep space research instruments. In addition, PARI has opened it facilities to students and has specifically invited student design projects that while providing services to PARI to improve their equipment and enhance their scientific and educational missions also provide a capstone learning experience for our seniors. This year’s project represents the second consecutive one for North Carolina A&T engineering students. The objective of this 2006–2007 projects was to 1) determine if the radio telescope 26E is out of balance and 2) develop an appropriate design to bring the telescope into balance on each of the two axes, x = lower (major) axis, and y = upper (minor) axis. Through a series torque vs declination angle measurements the engineering students determined that the radio telescope x-axis was top heavy and that approximately two to three tons of counterweights needed to be added to the existing system of counterweights. Unfortunately for 26E, there was no provision for adding such counterweights as no supporting structure existed for adjustments. There was such a structure on 26W. This was a design challenge for the team involving decision making, safety, robustness, modeling, tool usage and fabrication of materials. Students learn a lot about field engineering problems from this project, and they begin to appreciate how each of them could best add value to the creation of an improved instrument. They were able to apply what they have learned about materials, tolerances, analysis, safety, and other subjects to improve important scientific instruments, and they found that they learned much to enhance their careers.

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