Liverpool Telescope Operations 2014-2016

Lead Research Organisation: Liverpool John Moores University
Department Name: Astrophysics Research Institute


The Liverpool Telescope (LT ) ( is the world's largest and most sophisticated (in terms of range of science programmes, flexibility of scheduling, and sophistication of instrumentation) robotic telescope with a dual role to carry out internationally competitive research and deliver the key observing resource to the National Schools Observatory. The NSO offers school children near-immediate access to a world-class observatory. Since its launch in 2004, this has led to over 70,000 observing requests from schools and the NSO currently works with over 4000 teachers throughout the UK and Ireland. At the core of the NSO is the website which provides support material for a range of subjects and receives well over 1 million hits each year.

Since operations began in 2004, LT has specialised in delivering high impact results in time domain astrophysics. Indeed, the observatory is unique in actively encouraging rapid-response and difficult-to-schedule monitoring projects from the U.K. and Spanish communities. Refereed publications that include LT data typically average 36 citations/paper; to date 14 such papers have appeared in the high-profile journals Nature or Science, these having on average 86 citations/paper.

From the outset, the goal has been to provide a wide variety of instrumentation to cater for the broad interests of the LJMU and U.K./Spanish communities. Currently, optical photometry, spectroscopy and polarimetry are offered with instruments and a software environment that are capable of sampling timescales from ~10 milliseconds to ~10 years. A continuous programme of instrument upgrades has been aggressively pursued throughout the last decade. Over the next 12 months we aim to complement the existing suite of five instruments with a new, high-throughput optical spectrometer and a two-band, near-infrared imager. Together these seven instruments will keep the facility competitive and ensure its position at the forefront of time domain astronomy for at least the next five years.

This application is for an STFC contribution over the period 2014-2016 (at a reduced level to previous years) to the funding for the maintenance and operation of the Liverpool Telescope, and hence the continuation of its role as a major resource both for the LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute and the wider UK community.

Planned Impact

Industrial Engagement

The LT project at Liverpool JMU has a long tradition of strong industrial engagement. The initial build of the telescope was based around the establishment of a spinout company (TTL, Telescope Technologies Ltd) which was subsequently sold in 2005 to an ex-Google employee to build a global network of small (0.4 and 1 metre) robotic telescopes.

The project has ongoing strong links with a number of local engineering companies. Much of the precision engineering required for LT instrumentation is done in collaboration with the SME engineering firm "Senar". Through the Liverpool Telescope project Senar were contracted by the university-owned company TTL to build several parts for the telescope, causing the company to upgrade its skills and machinery to deliver the high precision needed for astronomical instrumentation. The contract safeguarded a number of jobs at the time and the company received a grant from MAS (Manufacturing Institute, via the local council organization Wirral Direct) for the purchase of a new, more accurate, CNC lathe for precision machining. Their ongoing work for LT also features as part of their advertising, using the telescope as an example of a high-profile/high-technology client. Their reputation in precision engineering for astronomical applications over the past 10 years has led to contracts with other international observatories (e.g., the new WHT Auxiliary camera and a potential WEAVE contract) and with CERN, producing the chain links that carry cooling pipes and electrical cables for the LHC.

Skills and knowledge transfer are furthered by the direct involvement of students (undergraduate and postgraduate) in development projects. The LT team has consistently included undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students in instrument and software design and development with these projects forming the basis of several PhD theses. Most of these students have left academic research for wider industry.

We have also had success in licensing software and hardware developed for the telescope to the Faulkes/LCOGT organization. License income of £160k plus telescope time worth an additional £180k on the LCO telescopes has been received by LJMU from this activity.

Public Engagement

The LT is a focus for a significant fraction of the extensive Public Engagement programme in Astrophysics at LJMU. As well as many talks and workshops to schools and the general public (e.g. in 2012/13 over 150 talks to over 10,000 people were given based on the LT) the LT is also key to the success of a suite of Distance Learning courses in Astronomy that attract around 200 students a year, many of whom have little or no prior experience of Higher Education.

The LT is also an important element in the Spaceport visitor attraction on the banks of the river Mersey. The attraction regularly exceeds visitor number predictions (currently at around 70,000 per year) and brings considerable income into a regeneration area. Using the standard STEAM model (Digest of Tourism Statistics, Dec. 2009 - The Mersey Partnership) for determining the economic benefits of tourism in the City Region for day visitors, this equates to a net gain of more than £2m per year. Spaceport also contributed towards the success of Mersey Ferries being ranked 1st in the City Region in 2008 - when Liverpool was European Capital of Culture - for a paid tourist attraction and an independent MORI Poll from 2006 found that 97% of visitors to Spaceport were either satisfied or very satisfied with their visit. Due to this success, the original targets for the regeneration have been met or exceeded. These include the creation of an estimated 50 new jobs, both direct and indirect, which equates to a gross value added of £1.4m pa to the City Region.


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Description The National Schools' Observatory (NSO) is a major educational website, established by Liverpool John Moores University, to allow schools to make their own observations alongside professional astronomers with the world's largest fully-robotic telescope - the Liverpool Telescope. The NSO also provides educational resources to help with the challenging task of teaching science, technology and mathematics in the classroom environment. It has long been known that astronomy creates a sense of excitement and wonder in pupils of all ages. The NSO taps into that interest to further the pupil's knowledge of science and mathematics, while at the same time improve computer literacy and communications skills, strengthen critical thinking and provide experience the real-world application of science and technology. Using astronomical telescopes is the most important feature of this website and schools registered with the Schools' Observatory have the opportunity to make their observations using the LT. Over the past 10 years, over 100,000 observations have been taken for schools. Once the observing request has been completed, pupils are able to download the telescope data and use special Image Processing software (LTImage) to analyse the resulting images.
First Year Of Impact 2004
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title robotic astronomy 
Description procedures, hardware and software systems for the automation of astronomical observations. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact widespread adoption of robotic observing 
Description Collaboration with University of Oxford 
Organisation University of Oxford
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Scientific Expertise, Access to telescope time
Collaborator Contribution Scientific Expertise, Financial Contribution
Impact Collaboration on followup of LOFAR radio transients starting in early 2014.
Start Year 2014
Description ESA Gaia Support 
Organisation European Space Agency
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Telescope time, observation management and data reduction in support of the tracking of the Gaia satellite via optical means.
Collaborator Contribution Target Position Information, Data Analysis
Impact Ongoing project - wast initially test programme prior to satellite launch in September 2013, after became ongoing commercial contract with ESA renewed annually
Start Year 2011
Description FRODOSpec 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Physics and Astronomy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Funding and effort to develop a dual beam spectrograph for the Liverpool Telescope using optical fibre and VPH technology. Ongoing joint exploitation.
Collaborator Contribution Funding contribution and scientific input to the spectrograph design. Ongoing joint exploitation.
Impact The FRODOSpec instrument itself. Scientific publications.
Description Joint GRB Programme 
Organisation University of Ljubljana
Department Faculty of Mathematics and Physics
Country Slovenia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Telescope time, data analysis, software development, scientific expertise
Collaborator Contribution Funding, scientific expertise.
Impact 17 joint scientific publications.
Start Year 2010
Description RISE 
Organisation Queen's University Belfast
Department School of Mathematics and Physics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design of a new fast-timing camera for the Liverpool Telescope, integration and operation. Joint scientific exploitation.
Collaborator Contribution Funding of hardware. Software development. Joint scientific Exploitation.
Impact The RISE instrument. 17 scientific publications.
Start Year 2007
Title Telescope Robotic Control Software 
Description Robotic Control Software for telescopes 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2014 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Used for robotic control of Liverpool and Faulkes Telescopes 
Description National Schools Observatory 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Over 100,000 Liverpool Telescope observations delivered into over 2,500 schools in the UK, with supporting curricular material etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016