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All Sutherland telescopes see first-light

Feb 25, 2013

We have installed and completed engineering commissioning of three robotic 1-meter telescopes in a matter of a few days this week at the South Africa Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), Sutherland. The telescopes, first built and tested at the company's Santa Barbara headquarters, were delivered to the SAAO site Monday, February 18th 2013. Five days later, on the night of February 22, all three telescopes were on-sky.

Each telescope is a specially-designed homogeneous, maximally available, 1-meter telescope for the purpose of optical monitoring of time-variable sources. Each telescope must provide reliable robotic operation for long periods of time, with minimal hands-on maintenance, deliver good pointing, tracking and guiding, and provide uniform, high-quality science images. They are C-ring equatorial mount, with an optical design comprised of an f/2.5 Hextek lightweight primary mirror and a 330mm diameter Hextek secondary, optically finished by LZOS in Russia, providing an f/8 modified Ritchey-Chretien system, with the addition of a doublet corrector in front of the instrument package. The system is designed for 80% enclosed energy within a circle of diameter 0.6 arcsec.

A small installation team of five arrived a week before the telescopes and installed the piers and cryogenic cooling systems. When the telescopes arrived, they were quickly craned into the three waiting domes, and reassembled. The telescopes were then wired into the pre-installed electrical systems. The team then mechanically aligned the primary mirrors, installed the optical tube assembly including the secondary, and mechanically aligned that. They then installed the instrument package, currently using an SBIG STX-16803 as the science camera, and a Nikon extinction/context camera, tested the mount motors, and prepared to go on-sky.


First light image from doma A on 22 February.

2013 02 22 NGC 2442 CPT dome A.jpg

NGC 2442 taken with dome A's 1-meter telescope

Throughout the installation, the SAAO mechanical, electrical, and IT teams helped make the project a reality. Their shop was open when drills stuck in the hard concrete, their forklift appeared at all the right times, sand everyone on the site welcomed the team and offered their help. The SALT observatory staff were also extremely helpful. The team is especially grateful for access to the SALT espresso machine. SALT also aided with tool loans and guidance on suppliers.

The LCOGT installation team consists of Lead Deployment Engineer, Annie Hjelstrom and telescope technicians Kurt Vander Horst, Matrk Crellin, and David Petry. LCOGT postdoctoral scholar Abiy Tekola, working out of the SAAO headquarters, is the fifth member of the team and has helped this team and prior teams - the enclosure team, the electrical team - achieve their objectives.


3 x 1-meter domes with Abiy in the middle, image provided by Kevin Govender (IAU office of astronomy for development)

Company founder, Wayne Rosing sent out an e-mail Saturday night, "Three telescopes moving, three domes a -open, six cameras exposing. Sort of reminds me of a Holiday Song." He also said it was "the best little telescope installation team the Universe!"

The SAAO installation brings the total number of LCOGT telescopes operating and on-sky up to seven. It is anticipated that all of these telescopes will be open to science use by April of this year. Two more 1-meter telescopes will be installed at our Siding Spring Observatory site, Australia in the middle of 2013.