Telescope Beam Simulator

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

Abstract

The development of new instruments (such as cameras which take images, spectrographs which analyse compositions and motions, and polarimeters which measure magnetic fields) for astronomical telescopes is an ongoing effort. New technologies promise greater sensitivities or resolutions and often lower costs. At LJMU we own and operate the world's largest robotic telescope ("The Liverpool Telescope") which is sited on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma. To keep the telescope scientifically competitive, we must continually upgrade and replace its instruments to take advantage of new technologies. We also build instrumentation for other telescopes around the world who have similar goals.

Currently we use sophisticated ray-tracing software to predict how well our instruments will work when we transport them out to the telescope. However this software can not predict the performance of commercial off the shelf components, which, while having the great advantage of low cost, often have proprietary designs. We therefore wish to buy a "telescope beam simulator" than will project a simulated image of the sky onto our new instruments in the laboratory before shipping them overseas. This will allow us to test our instruments as we go along, improving their quality and saving time on overseas trips, meaning the telescope can be used more for science and less for engineering work. We will also be able to place the simulator into a test chamber where we can alter the temperature and so check that the instrument will work as well on a cold winters night as it does in the room temperature of the laboratory where it was built.

Planned Impact

Impact (outreach, industrial and overseas development) has long been a core LJMU/ARI activity with dedicated staffing and resources. It is a standing item at the ARI Board and a key strength of the institute. ARI was ranked in the 2nd quartile for Physics (UoA9) impact in REF2014. The goal of the ARI Impact strategy is to be the ranked in the upper quartile impact in the physics unit of assessment in the next REF period. We will achieve this by combining a core of high quality activity supplemented by an agile approach to new opportunities. Capital investments are a key enabler of this activity.

Impact at LJMU is captured via a centrally managed "Impact Tracker" system. In addition, impacts related to STFC activity are captured using ResearchFish. Major components of our current programme include:

Industry Links: The LJMU Faculty of Engineering and Technology (or which ARI is a part) has recently been awarded ERDF funding ("LCR4.0") to develop faculty wide links with local SMEs. In addition we have strong existing links with a number of SME's and spin out companies from our and other universities. We are currently developing a strong engagement with the joint LJMU/UoL Sensor City initiative which provides another route to industrial exploitation and commercialization of our work.

Skills Development: Skills and knowledge transfer are furthered by the direct involvement of students (undergraduate and postgraduate) in our development projects. The group 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.

National Schools Observatory: (NSO - www.schoolsobservatory.org.uk): A major educational resource that supports access to the Liverpool Telescope by schools. The NSO currently has about 3000 registered schools (primary, secondary and FE), the website attracts more than 1,500,000 visits per year and we have dealt with over 16,000 observing requests in the last year.

Overseas Development Aid: We have a major programme of overseas development activity, mainly in collaboration with the National Astronomical Observatory of Thailand and funded via the STFC Newton Fund. For example understanding instrument control enables precision manufacturing robotics (UN Sustainable Development Goal SDG 9; upgrading technological capabilities and encouraging domestic technology development and innovation). Similarly data processing, archiving and distribution facilitates industrial cooperation and enhances the impact of domestic innovation (SDG 8; promoting economic productivity through technology upgrading and innovation to focus on high-value added sectors).

The pathway to impact to which TBS contributes involves using all of these existing aspects to develop a wide-ranging societal and industrial engagement programme that generates active involvement in our research by a diverse audience. We will build on our current success with the NSO, distance learning courses, talks/lectures and the media to explain links between technological and scientific advancements and their wider applications. We will also engage with SME suppliers in the UK to ensure their products meet our performance requirements. TBS will be directly employed in our Newton Funded ODA work with Thailand and out new contract with South Africa to manufacture a new spectrograph for them. We will also make use of TBS available to other UK groups developing instrumentation to spread the impact wider than LJMU.

Publications

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