Use the quicklinks below to navigate to the topics that interest you:
- 2020 in Review
- Updates From the Construction Site
- Major National Science Foundation Grant Accelerates Telescope Development
- Did You Know?
- Protecting the Telescope From Extreme Earthquakes
- Prototyping the Adaptive Secondary Mirrors
- Event Recap: SPIE 2020
- Join us at AAS 2021
- 2020 in the News
- Job Openings
2020 in Review
2020 was a year of progress and challenge for the Giant Magellan Telescope.
We began the year as part of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program briefing to the American Astronomical Society. This program seeks to provide broad US community access to the Giant Magellan Telescope through the involvement of the US government. The scientific community response was quite positive.
This was followed by a briefing to the US Decadal Survey Panel on Optical and Infrared Observations from the Ground. The Decadal Survey will establish the scientific priorities for the US government over the next ten years. Our briefing was well received by the Panel, and the event was reported by the New York Times.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which upended our lives and forced us into a very different mode of work. The GMTO Corporation responded swiftly to close our office in Pasadena and the construction site in Chile and transition our employees to teleworking from home. Over time we, including our suppliers, were able to continue necessary work in laboratories safely, and by the end of the year, construction had resumed at Las Campanas. While our schedule has been impacted somewhat, excellent progress continues to be made.
The GMTO Corporation was a subawardee of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant from a proposal we submitted in 2019 for work including adaptive and active optics technologies needed by the Giant Magellan Telescope. This will produce two optical phasing testbeds, a full-scale primary mirror control system testbed, and fabrication and testing of key elements of the first off-axis adaptive secondary mirror. We submitted an additional proposal to the NSF this year to prepare the GMTO Corporation for further interaction with the NSF aimed at possible US government involvement in the Giant Magellan Telescope.
Mirror production at the Richard F. Caris Laboratory at the University of Arizona continues apace. Segment #3 front surface polishing has achieved 200 nanometer accuracy and is less than one year from completion. Segment #5 rear-surface processing was completed, and preparations are well advanced to cast Segment #6 early next year. Our telescope structure contractor is approaching preliminary design review, and other telescope subsystems are in preliminary or final design stages.
We look forward to 2021 with determination and optimism for continued progress with the design and construction of Giant Magellan Telescope.
– Dr. James Fanson, Project Manager
Updates From the Construction Site
In mid-March, the majority of our team vacated the telescope site at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile as a safety precaution amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. A skeleton crew remained at the site to perform essential maintenance and safeguard our infrastructure.
In late October, there was a magnitude 5.8 earthquake with the epicenter not far from our site, about 20 km to the west and 60 km deep. Afterward, we conducted a detailed inspection of our infrastructure, roads, and equipment, in accordance with our safety protocols. We also took measurements at the summit to verify whether soil settlement occurred. Fortunately, there were no findings of any kind and no damages to report.
In early November, after hundreds of hours of dedicated planning and preparation for a safe return to work at the telescope site, our team remobilized with the intent to finish the Water and Utility Infrastructure distribution package. When the team arrived at the site, we conducted briefings on the new COVID-19 preventions in place, including facilities operations and residence protocols. During our first week back, 45 people were on site including GMTO Corporation employees, contractors, and general services personnel. Site occupancy is at roughly 20% capacity.
Our dining facilities have been reorganized to allow for contact traceability. We’ve downsized the maximum capacity of 150 diners to 40 diners, and of tables of 6 to tables of 2. Mealtimes now occur in shifts with 15-minute sanitation sweeps between shifts, and we’ve installed shielded dividers at each table setting. Room accommodations have transitioned from shared to individual use and our recreation facilities (gym, pool table, TV) remain closed. We’ve implemented safety barriers in the necessary areas at the site to conduct construction work. Additionally, to allow for contact traceability, the team has been organized into work cells – groups that work together, share transportation, and share meals shifts.
– Francisco Figueroa, Site Construction Manager (Chile)
NSF Grant Accelerates Telescope Development
In September, the Giant Magellan Telescope received a $17.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) subaward grant to accelerate the prototyping and testing of some of the most powerful optical and infrared technologies ever engineered. The grant supports three crucial advancements and retires risk:
- The build of two phasing testbeds will allow engineers to demonstrate, in a controlled laboratory setting, that its core designs will work to align and phase the telescope’s seven mirror segments with the required precision to achieve diffraction-limited imaging at first light in 2029.
- A full-scale prototype of the primary mirror support and control system that delivers active optical control.
- The partial build and testing of a next-generation Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM), which is used to perform the primary mirror phasing and atmospheric distortion correction.
“Our seven Adaptive Secondary Mirrors take [adaptive optics] technology to the next level,” said Dr. James Fanson, Project Manager of the Giant Magellan Telescope. “No one has attempted to use seven ASMs before the Giant Magellan Telescope. They are probably the most advanced tech we have on the telescope, and their success is a top priority. We need to test and validate their performance early on in the project.”
The testbeds will be developed at the University of Arizona Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics (CAAO) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), while actuator testing and integration of the primary mirror support will be developed at Texas A&M University. The Adaptive Secondary Mirrors are developed in contract with AdOptica.
This NSF grant positions the Giant Magellan Telescope to be one of the first in a new generation of large telescopes, approximately three times the size of any ground-based optical telescope built to date and capable of achieving ten times better resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Did You Know?
The Giant Magellan Telescope is a member of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP), a joint initiative with the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab) to provide superior full-sky observing access (both Northern and Southern hemispheres). Upon completion of each telescope, scientists in the US will be able to take advantage of the program’s two pioneering telescopes to carry out transformational research that answers some of humanity’s most pressing questions.
In November, an independent review panel of internationally renowned experts gave top marks to the Giant Magellan Telescope’s innovative seismic protection system capable of protecting the 13.6-million-pound telescope structure from extreme earthquake damage. The innovative system is unprecedented in the world of telescopes in terms of size and complexity and will pave the way for the next generation in observatory design.
The Giant Magellan Telescope is being constructed at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the best locations on Earth to view the universe. But while this remote region boasts more than 300 clear nights of the galactic center per year, it is also one of the world’s most seismically active regions. Large earthquakes in Chile can last for more than three minutes and often exceed seven on the surface-wave magnitude scale (Ms).
The seismic protection system — or seismic isolation system — is designed to remain inactive during small “nuisance” earthquakes common at Las Campanas Observatory. The system will only engage during extreme earthquakes that exceed a magnitude of approximately 5 Ms.
The seismic isolation system is located under the pier of the telescope and consists of two lines of defense for seismic protection:
- Single friction pendulum (SFP) bearings, which isolate the telescope from lateral ground motions during an earthquake.
- Pier recentering system, which can return the telescope and pier to the normal operational position following an earthquake.
Similar to the seismic devices used in bridges and other large structures, the SFP bearings allow the pier to move laterally with respect to the foundations, dissipating energy and keeping the telescope safe. The circular array of 24 bearings have +/- 700mm of motion range and a radius of curvature, which provides a four-second period of lateral motion.
“The ability of the pier to move with respect to the foundations creates an associated need to bring the telescope back to ‘home’ position after a big earthquake,” said Dr. Bruce Bigelow, Site, Enclosure, and Facilities Manager of the Giant Magellan Telescope.
The pier recentering and monitoring system (PRMS) uses a powerful hydraulic system capable of moving over 6,200 metric tons of telescope and pier (roughly half the weight of the Brooklyn Bridge), to return the pier within a few millimeters of its operational position following a major earthquake.
Prototyping the Secondary Mirrors
The immense size of the Giant Magellan Telescope’s primary mirrors requires a powerful adaptive optics system to correct the blurring effects of the atmosphere. The use of the adaptive secondary mirrors (ASMs) allows us to collect incoming light and shape it with an error opposite to the measured atmospheric distortion, resulting in a blur-free image.
“The application of adaptive optics technology to Giant Magellan Telescope will provide future astronomers the ability to image even more distant objects due to the minimized atmospheric distortion effect,” shares Glenn Brossus, Assistant Project Manager for the Giant Magellan Telescope.
At the heart of each ASM are 675 actuators that can deform or “adapt” the 1.05m diameter, 2mm thick mirror face sheet to the desired shape. The actuators are fixed to a rigid reference body and use electromagnetic force to push and pull on the rare earth magnets that are bonded onto the back of the mirror face sheet. This shape-changing ability allows the mirrors to be continuously adjusted during an exposure. To correct the optical phase error, each secondary mirror segment will move just 4kg of glass rather than a 17-metric ton primary mirror, greatly simplifying overall image control of the Giant Magellan Telescope.
Progress continues on the Giant Magellan Telescope ASMs with the development of the subscale prototype. Prototype components for the 72 actuator 0.35m diameter face sheet have been received, assembled, and tested. The prototype face sheet has been coated with aluminum and has 72 magnets bonded to the back surface. With the cold plate and reference body integrated, project engineers are ready for the next stage: optical performance testing.
Event Recap: SPIE 2020
This year, SPIE 2020: Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation kicked off a virtual forum on December 14–18. Dr. James Fanson, Project Manager of the Giant Magellan Telescope, gave an invited talk on the project’s latest status. Additionally, many of the telescope’s project engineers submitted papers and presented.
Join us at AAS 2021
Join the Giant Magellan Telescope at the 237th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), January 10–15, 2021. We’ll be virtually attending in partnership with the US Extremely Large Telescope Program — look for the US-ELTP Virtual Exhibit Booth! Dr. James Fanson, Project Manager of the Giant Magellan Telescope will also be speaking during a special splinter session on the US-ELTP on January 14, 2021 from 4:10–5:40pm ET.
2020 in the News
2020 was a big news year, here are a few of our top picks:
- Astronomy Magazine | Four new giant telescopes are about to rock astronomy
- CNN/Great Big Story | Building the world’s largest telescope
- Design World | EtherCAT and PC based control for giant telescope automation
- Forbes | A giant leap towards defeating astronomy’s greatest enemy: Earth’s atmosphere
- IndustryWeek | Engineers accomplish earthquake safety design
- NYT | American astronomy’s future goes on trial in Washington
- Optics & Photonics | A deeper view of the cosmos
- PhysicsWorld | Giant Magellan Telescope receives cash injection from the National Science Foundation
- Space.com | Giant Magellan Telescope snags $17.5 million grant to test advanced optics
- SPIE | Casting giants
For news in Spanish and from Chile, please see the Spanish version of our Newsletter.
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