The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) is the UK's national facility for astronomy instrumentation.
Alignment of the MIRI spectrometer pre-optics module in a UK ATC clean-room
As part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, we design and build world-class astronomical technology for both space-based and ground-based observatories. As such we work collaboratively with many national and international organisations, and have a strong track record with major space organisations including ESA and NASA.
Our involvement in space-related and ground-based astronomy projects spans over 30 years. In order to deliver this we have built extensive engineering expertise in areas such as cryogenics, optics, opto-mechanical structures and mechanisms and detectors coupled to strong systems engineering, project management and software expertise. Furthermore we have the necessary expertise in the additional requirements placed on delicate instruments that have to survive the rigours of spacecraft launch and operation in the harsh environment of space.
Our mandate in the space field is to design, build and qualify space-based instruments for scientific missions such as the optical design for a camera for the ISO (Infrared Space Observatory) satellite where we supplied qualified lenses, filters, filter-wheels and mounts. In operation between 1995 and 1998, ISO was the world?s first true orbiting infrared observatory and provided astronomers worldwide with a facility of unprecedented sensitivity. The project was a great technical, operational and scientific success and its scientific results impacted practically all fields of astronomy.
ESA?s Herschel Space Observatory, which successfully launched on 14 May this year, also contained hardware designed, built and qualified by the UK ATC. The beamsteering mirror, a critical component of the SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver) instrument, was developed at the UK ATC. It is an exceptionally accurate active mirror, operational at extreme cryogenic temperatures. The UK ATC was also involved in the overall instrument design, contributing to the initial camera optics and layout, the focal plane systems engineering and the instrument control software. Early results indicate that SPIRE, and the critical beam steering mirror, are operating perfectly.
The UK ATC is also developing flight hardware for the James Webb Space Telescope, a flagship NASA/ESA mission. We have the European scientific lead for the Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) along with engineering systems lead roles, and have designed, built and tested the highly complex spectrometer pre-optics module (~60 optical components totalling ~180 surfaces). This module will enable the instrument to perform hyper-spectral imaging by using a set of four diamond machined image slicers. The JWST will launch in approximately 2014. Finally, the UK ATC also has extensive experience of ground-based astronomy instrumentation projects.
Examples include WFCAM, the Wide Field Infrared Camera, which was delivered to the United Kingdom Infra- Red Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii in 2004 and VISTA, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy recently delivered to the European Southern Observatory?s (ESO) Cerro Paranal Observatory in Chile. We are currently assembling an infrared multi-object integral field spectrometer (KMOS) for ESO.
In conclusion, the UK ATC has extensive experience in both space and ground-based applications. This experience is now being leveraged into other non-astronomy projects (eg LIDAR for ESA) and other commercial work. The UK ATC has a dedicated commercial arm which exploits the technology and skills built up through our extensive experience. We are always looking for scientific, technological and commercial partners so please contact us to discuss your particular application.
Added the 07 October 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-2