European Southern Observatory (ESO) Invite Altec Engineering to Bid for Supply of Mirror Segment Components

Date Added 16/05/2014

Bowburn based Altec Engineering Limited is one of just 2 UK companies to be recommended by the STFC (Science and Technologies Facilities Council) to represent the UK’s bid for the supply of engineering services including Design, Manufacturing, Verification and Delivery of Qualification Models of M1 Segment Support, Fixed Frame Assembly and Auxiliary Equipment for the European – Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Following the UK Governments confirmation of an £88 million investment, in what is recognised as one of the biggest global science collaborations in history, the UK research base and industry are set to play a leading role in the project.

The E-ELT, to be built in Chile, will see first light in early 2020 making huge strides toward our understanding of the Universe, the effects of dark matter and energy and planets outside of the solar system. Its 39 metre diameter mirror, comprising of almost 800 individual segments, will collect 15 times more light than any existing telescope and it will produce images 16 times sharper than the Hubble space-based telescope.

This significant investment will ensure UK scientists and engineers, supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), will be heavily involved in the construction and operation of the telescope and its instruments, set to be the most advanced of its kind. UK industry has already won £9 million worth of contracts, and that figure is predicted to increase as much as ten-fold once construction is completed.

Altec Engineering Limited and Durham University’s CfAI (Centre for Advanced Instrumentation) recently visited the Munich based European Southern Observatory, representing the UK and to bid for work on the E-ELT M1 Mirror Segment Support (M1SS) components.

In order to survey the sky the E-ELT Primary Mirror comprises of 798 off-axis aspherical segments. The M1SS components are made of low expansion glass or glass-ceramics, roughly 1.44m in diameter and 50 mm thickness at the center. Each segment is supported by a mechanical system transferring the load of the mirror to the telescope structure. There are a total of 931 segments and associated supports, of which 798 are installed in the telescope at any given time. These are actively controlled to set and maintain position using three actuators, attached to the segment supporting frame. Positional adjustments are calculated, using information from position sensors (Edge Sensors) that measure relative displacements of the segments in real time, down to a few nanometers in accuracy. In addition to rigid body motion, the segments are controlled in shape via moment or force actuators (the Warping Harness), which enable adjustment of the supporting forces, thus generating minor segment surface deformations. Active shape control allows for conservation of an optimum primary mirror shape under external loads, but also for moderate relaxation of fabrication and testing tolerances.   

Altec Engineering has 2 business units expertly placed to undertake key aspects of this project. The Design & Sub Systems Assembly work will be project managed through the company’s Special Purpose Equipment Division whilst the complex CNC precision machining content will be delivered from Altec’s AS9100 Rev C Manufacturing Division. Durham University’s CfAI, with its extensive experience in Space Instrument Design & Integration, will undertake the final assembly and environmental testing prior to shipment.

Altec Engineering is a recognised and accredited supplier to the Aerospace and Space Science Industry and already has an ongoing working relationship with STFC. The company recently secured a new 4 year contract with the organisation, the second in succession, under which the company will provide a wide range of precision machining services to the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory – Oxfordshire, Daresbury Laboratory – Cheshire and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh. Altec also has a long-standing collaborative arrangement with Durham University’s Centre For Advanced Instrumentation (CfAI).