Instruments we’re building

We are continuously upgrading and improving our instruments, and we’ve always got several things on the go. Our highest priority project at the moment is WiNCam, a wide-field camera to be mounted on one of the Nasmyth ports of Lesedi (the SAAO’s new 1-metre telescope). This will incorporate the largest detector ever handled by our instrumentation team (6k x 6k pixels!) and we are using the IDSAC controller developed by the Indian Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). The cryostat, instrument housing, filter and shutter mechanisms have all been designed and are being built-in-house, in out mechanical and electronics workshops. The software is being developed using the software framework previously developed and used for the SHOC and SpUpNIC instruments.

The SAAO recently acquired a new 1-metre telescope, named Lesedi. This was installed in August 2016, and is currently being commissioned. Until the WiNCam instrument is ready, we are using one of the SHOC instruments for this. We are also developing a web-based interface to the telescope control system supplied with which the telescope.

We have developed a new software framework which we are now using for all new and upgraded instrumentation projects. The framework supports a distributed set of instrument components, and allows a web-based user interface to be implemented. This is in line with our long-term goal of having the instruments be remotely (and eventually robotically) operable.

We recently comprehensively overhauled the Cassegrain Spectrograph on the 74″ telescope and it was installed in the October 2015. The upgrade includes a much improved optical design, re-coated optics and a significantly better light throughput. There is also a new user interface, and the software was developed using our new software framework (see below). A webcam followed the progress of the instrument as it was built, and there’s a blog describing the building and commissioning of the instrument.

The software for the SHOC instruments has been re-written using the new framework, and went live in the second quarter of 2015. As part of the rewrite, a web interface to the instrument is provided, and all the hardware components (camera, GPS and filterwheel) are controlled from a single interface. This also allows the generated FITS data files to be populated with information from all components.

Other planned projects include upgrading GIRAFFE and HIPPO.

In addition to the instruments,  we are also developing new control systems for the telescopes. The Telescope Control System integrates all the different functions of the telescope such as telescope movement, dome and shutter control and any other parts of the telescope that requires control. We are working towards full remote control of the telescope and telescope environment.  Safety features are incorporated in the designs to ensure that the telescope or users are protected in the events such as power failures, bad weather conditions and moving of the telescope or dome where things can be damaged. Some of these features that we have developed for telescopes and environment are incorporated by some of the other facilities we host at SAAO.

We proudly utilize the following software in the design and development of our instruments:

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 12.09.29 PMScreen Shot 2015-02-04 at 12.08.56 PMScreen Shot 2015-02-04 at 12.08.46 PM