Optical Infrared Coordination Network for Astronomy
Astronomical instruments are becoming ever larger and more complex as we seek to address the latest scientific questions. New techniques such as additive manufacturing (AM) and laser enhanced inscription (LE) offer the potential to design and build instruments (and components) that are far more lightweight, self-contained, and easier to assemble and align, resulting in improved performance systems that are potentially more compact, reliable and cheaper.
Our aim is to evaluate and adopt these techniques, to aid not only the building of a new generation of astronomical instruments for ground-based telescopes such as the VLT and E-ELT, and also to advance optical interferometry techniques. Such new instruments will help address the “Big Questions” in astronomy over the coming decades. For example, the search and characterisation of Earth-like planets requires large telescopes and adaptive optics systems (AM mirrors), and new approaches for coronography to aid high-contrast studies of close-in star/planet systems.
The development of optical interferometry requires ultra-precision metrology systems (using micro-positioners and fibre-based light guiding devices) to resolve the nuclei of galaxies and the region around supermassive black holes. Larger multiplex and more sensitive multi-object spectrometers (integrated components such as filter wheels and fibre positioners) are needed to address the large-scale structure of the Universe over a wide range of epochs.
Finally, new, photon-counting detector systems, based on superconducting devices (containing integrated miniature cooling systems and metamaterial based optics), will offer new optical/near-IR insights on the origin of radiation from highly variable objects such as gamma ray bursts, neutron star and black hole binaries, pulsars and cataclysmic variables. Associated with the size issue is the complexity of many of the sub-systems within these instruments. Sub-systems can be composed of hundreds of intricate parts often with critical interfaces between materials, particularly the case when the system requires cooling, as is invariably the case for state-of-the-art instruments such as KMOS and MOONS.
Depicted below are examples of additive manufactured components. The two parts in the left panel shows the mass reduction possibilities of the same part. The bottom image shows the part made conventionally by taking material away while the top image shows the same part, stronger and lighter using additive manufacturing. There exists an opportunity to adapt new manufacturing techniques to make structures (on a variety of size-scales) far more self-contained, and easier to assemble and align, resulting in enhanced performance and potentially more compact and reliable instruments. In this work we propose a coordinated initiative between the institutes to evaluate and adapt the new manufacturing techniques for the manufacturing of integrated structures which integrates actuators, sensors and control electronics within a single component suitable for use in astronomical applications.
Hermine Schnetler (STFC) -