The Las Campanas Observatory - Chile

This remotely operated telescope system (affectionately nicknamed LCOBOT) became a reality due to the efforts of a dedicated group of private stakeholders and
management of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California.  This facility is a shared resource between the stakeholders and the Carnegie Observatories,
with use of the equipment apportioned on a monthly basis between the parties for science, deep sky imaging and Chilean public outreach efforts. 

Median year-round seeing at Las Campanas is around 0.6 arc-seconds, with a number of nights much better than that.  Pitch black skies and incredible atmospherics
make this one of the finest sites in the world for astronomical research.  Evening views of the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds are simply breathtaking.

 

The Stakeholders and Principal Donors
 

Mike Long (left) and John Hoot (right) pictured during shakedown testing at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California prior to shipping the equipment to Chile. 


Mike is a Trustee of the Carnegie Institution of Washington DC and Vice President of Carnegie Observatory's Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) Project.  Mike secured the roll-off for this project in an agreement with Carnegie and was instrumental in design/build of the control system.


John Hoot, owner of SSC Corp in San Clemente, CA was responsible for software development, testing and commissioning for remote operation; a daunting job requiring a high degree of expertise.

Roland and Marj Christen, owners of Astro-Physics Inc. of Rockford, Illinois were the major contributors of equipment to the project, supplying the 12” Mak-Cass telescope and
1600 GTO mount.   They were on-site in Chile in early December 2013 with Mike Long
and myself to facilitate installation and commissioning of the system. 

 

 

 

Dave Jurasevich organized the major equipment donations and provided welding and machining services for the project. He was a member of the installation and commissioning team in Chile.

 

A major contributor to this project was Finger Lakes Instrumentation of Lima, New York, supplying at no cost the CCD camera, filter wheel, and focuser.  A special thanks to Greg Terrance, General Manager for all his efforts in making that happen.

 

Santa Barbara Instruments, through the efforts of Michael Barber, provided the guider camera for LCOBOT.

 

Don Goldman of Astrodon provided the project with deep discounts on filters and the MMOAG off-axis guider.

The Equipment

Custom designed and built by Roland Christen, the 12” f/8 Astro-Physics Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope is the centerpiece of the system.  It sits
atop an Astro-Physics 1600 GTO German equatorial mount equipped
with absolute encoders. Four 18# and one 9# counterweight balance the
OTA on the mount, which sits upon a specially fabricated 26” high stainless steel pier.

Equipment Specs:

Astro-Physics 12” f/8 Maksutov-Cassegrain OTA with carbon fiber tube and dew shield

Astro-Physics 1600 GTO mount with absolute encoders

Custom 26” high pier, 316 SS construction, white powder coated

Alnitak 24” x 24” Flat Man Electroluminescence Panel

The computer rack is located in an adjoining control room on the south side of the roll-off.

Equipment Specs:

APC Uninterruptible Power Supply

Digital-Loggers Ethernet Power Controller

Regulated 12VDC power supplies for cameras and telescope

Roll-off roof interface and Boltwood weather station box

Back-up Computer

Science Computer

Cisco VPN Router

D-Link Wireless Router

 

The imaging train is fixed to the back of the OTA (no instrument rotator), with all power and signal cables routed through the Astro-Physics 1600 mount for ease of cable management.  Note the fan port and removable covers on the rear cell of the telescope.

Equipment Specs:

FLI Atlas Large Payload Focuser, 105,000 steps at 85 nm/step


Astrodon MMOAG off-axis guider


SBIG ST-402ME guiding camera, 9 micron, 765 x 510  array


FLI CFW-3-10 Color Filter Wheel, 50 mm square, 10 position


Tru-Balance 50 mm sq. filter set L, R, G, B, Ha, OIII, SII, r’2, g’2, i’2


FLI ProLine 16803 CCD camera, 9 micron, 4096 x 4096 array

The light panel assembly for taking calibration flats consists of an Optec flat screen mounted on a custom fabricated aluminum stand.  The power and controls for the flat screen are in the weatherproof enclosure mounted to the stand directly beneath the screen.  Note the small webcam mounted atop the enclosure for visually checking the position of the telescope.

Equipment Specs

Optec Alnitak XL Flat-Man electroluminescence (EL) panel, 24” x 24”

Stahlin NEMA 4 electrical enclosure containing the EL panel electronics

EL Panel stand, 4” x 4” aluminum column with 14” x 14” mounting base

Easy N Model 136 IP web camera, IR LED illumination

 
 

Attached to the north side of the pier is the NEMA 4 telescope junction box. This enclosure is the interface for all data and power between the telescope and computer rack,

This box has since been upgraded with the USB extenders for the FLI and SBIG cameras replaced with an Icron Ranger USB Extender for more reliable service.

Waiting for the Stars
     
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