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Our telescope network expands at Cerro Tololo

Oct 2, 2012

A small team of Las Cumbres Observatory engineering and technical specialists arrived at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in central Chile on September 27, 2012. Their job, to install and commission three LCOGT 1-meter telescopes.

Cerro Tololo is the first full node of three 1-meter telescopes that Las Cumbres is deploying. Las Cumbres is developing a southern hemisphere telescope network with nodes in Chile, South Africa, and Australia. The Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) has helped fund the development of this southern ring to support the on-going science programs of member institution, St. Andrews University.

A single 1-meter telescope was installed at McDonald Observatory in Texas in April of this year. That telescope served as the first production prototype, allowing teams at the Santa Barbara headquarters to run engineering and science programs remotely and verify consistent behavior and quality. The McDonald 1-meter LCOGT telescope is being operated as a full science instrument as of October 1, 2012.

At Cerro Tololo, the tasks before the team have included inspecting the telescopes which arrived ahead of them, aligning the telescope piers inside the domes, and then craning the telescopes into the domes. Vincent Posner produced several videos of the arrival and craning procedures.

Driving a 1-meter telescope up the mountain

Craning a 1-meter telescope into Stellan C

Additional LCOGT videos are available on YouTube.


The image shows the craning procedure at Stellan B. The term Stellan applies to the Las Cumbres Observatory 1-meter enclosures. These are walls married to modified Ash-Dome domes that are highly integrated with the telescope and electrical and software systems. Prior teams installed the enclosures, and then the electrical and software backbones at the site.

The team has completed the craning for all three telescopes and has anchored the telescopes to the foundation pads. They will now focus on installing the 1-meter primary mirrors and the optical tube system on each telescope. This process recreates specifications and thresholds already achieved for each telescope during testing at headquarters.

A collimation process ensures the 1-meter mirror is level within the mirror cell and is aligned in both tip and tilt with the secondary mirror.

Following collimation, instruments are installed on the back of the mirror cell and the team will begin putting the telescopes on sky during the evening hours. Some of the night work is completed on site, some is handed off to be run remotely from Santa Barbara. Within a week, portions of the testing will be run remotely and robotically. First light for each of the telescopes, a major milestone for Las Cumbres and science partner St. Andrews University of Scotland, is anticipated in the next two weeks.

The team, led by Project Manager, Annie Hjelstrom, consists of engineer Vincent Posner, and telescope technicians Kurt Vander Horst, and Mark Crellin. They are supported by the Las Cumbres Observatory Site Manager, Oscar Saa.