Arecibo Observatory Specialty Engineering Cable Failure

Specialty Engineering Support Team Assists Arecibo Observatory


Project name: Specialty Engineering Support Team Assists Arecibo Observatory

Client: Thorton Tomasetti

Location: Puerto Rico

Services Provided: Failure Analysis


Specialty Engineering Support Team Assists Arecibo Observatory

After the Arecibo Radio Telescope collapsed, SOCOTEC experts provided specialty engineering support by examining a failed cable. One of the most critical parts of failure analysis is a post-mortem of the structural components. Metallurgy assessments, even after the fact, could help prevent failures in other similar situations.

On December 1, 2020, the 900-ton instrumentation platform of the famed Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico, fell and crashed through the reflector dish. Cable failures began in August, which led to an announcement of its decommissioning by the National Science Foundation in early November.

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Robert Vecchio Chief Executive Officer LPI a SOCOTEC Company


Chief Executive Officer, SOCOTEC Engineering, Inc

Chief Executive Officer, SOCOTEC Engineering, Inc +1 212 233 2737
Amaya BLEIMAN Principal Engineer LPI Inc a SOCOTEC Company



Principal +1 212 689 7791


SOCOTEC’s Specialty Engineering team came in after the telescope’s collapse and the firm’s Brooklyn Testing Facility received several failed cables. Technical staff, led by Robert Vecchio and Amaya Bleiman, provided metallurgical assessment and failure analysis.

Arecibo Cable Failure Analysis

Many Areas of Specialty Engineering Support

Even before Arecibo’s dramatic collapse, one of the recently added auxiliary cables snapped under an increased load. Many speculated that poor cable manufacturing, combined with Puerto Rico’s tropical climate, contributed to the collapse of the nearly sixty-year-old telescope. But additional analysis could help prevent future scientific calamities.

Arcecibo’s cables were necessary to provide stability for the post-installation addition of a Gregorian dome for expanded frequency capabilities. Typically, a weight of this magnitude would have a safety factor of six. But even after the auxiliary cables were added, the safety factor barely approached two. A future facility would need specialty engineering support to design a stronger, more durable support system.

Fortunately, SOCOTEC’s Brooklyn Testing Facility has diverse operations for both testing degraded materials and simulations. For the Arecibo cables, SOCOTEC’s experts could conduct strength and vibrational testing. As well, critical to an area hit by tropical storms, the team could run environmental and advanced aging simulations to understand improved components and their useful life.

Wrong Cables, Right Experts

Providing specialty engineering support requires a certain combination of skills and experience. Clients often require niche skills for problems outside the norm, such as the cables of a collapsed 900-ton telescope. SOCOTEC’s experts are able to bring a diverse set of project experiences to bear for on-site and laboratory challenges and help prevent future failure.

At SOCOTEC, project commitment is modeled by CEO Robert Vecchio, Ph.D. With nearly 40 years of SOCOTEC service, Dr. Vecchio has specialized in fitness-for-service(FFS) and risk-based assessment of structures and systems. Throughout his career, Dr. Vecchio has made significant contributions to the understanding of a wide range of structural and system issues. Relevant to this project, he worked on Fatigue Life Assessment of Wind Turbine Towers in Turkey and the 4 Times Square Scaffolding Collapse.

Working alongside the CEO is Amaya Bleiman, Principal. Bleiman has nearly 16 years of hands-on industry experience, perfectly suited to specialty engineering support. She also oversees the Brooklyn Testing Facility. Some select work that recommends her for the Arecibo project include FFS and Fatigue Assessment on the Tappan Zee Bridge Cable Anchor Pipes and Root Cause and Fitness-for-Service Assessments of Fractured Girders at the Salesforce Transbay Transit Center.

SOCOTEC Services Across Industries

Specialty engineering support is just the tip of the iceberg for SCOOTEC’s advisory capabilities. SOCOTEC offers services and support across many areas of expertise. Within the advisory and litigation support services division, SOCOTEC has more than 120 experts across 11 offices in the US. SOCOTEC is experienced in numerous dispute resolution forums, including United States Federal and State courts, Canadian courts, other various foreign courts, and arbitration forums such as the American Arbitration Association (AAA), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), and London Court of International Arbitration.

Beyond advisory and dispute resolution services, SOCOTEC excels within the TIC (Testing, Inspection, Certification) industry in the construction and infrastructure sectors by coordinating teams to solve clients’ most complex problems. SOCOTEC offers six Service Lines: Building Envelope, Energy & Sustainability, Code & Planning, Dispute Resolution, Project Advisory, and Specialty Engineering.


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