The Electronics department of the Instrumentation Division is responsible for developing, maintaining and supporting the electronic components of the telescopes and instruments.
Team members include Hitesh Gajjar (head of department), Piet Fourie, Willie Koorts, Pieter Swanevelder, Michael Rust, Avhapfani Malaudzi, Reggie Klein and Keegan Titus.
We have developed a new software framework which we intend using for all new and upgraded instruments on the SAAO small and medium telescopes. The framework is distributed, in that it allows components to exist independently yet communicate through a network, and language-agnostic, in that it allows components to be written in whichever language is most suitable to the task at hand.
At its core is the Apache Thrift package. This allows interfaces to be defined in a straightforward way, and then generates boiler-plate code to implement the interface. Thrift provides both a means of interprocess communication and remote procedure calls.
The framework allows the user interface to be separate and remote from the back-end code. We are using this framework to develop web-based interfaces, so that in future users will not neccessarily need to be at the telescope to operate the instruments.
The framework has been applied to the Sutherland High-speed Optical Camera (SHOC) systems, where the user is now able to interact with the filter wheel, global positioning system (GPS) and camera through a single (web-based) interface. We installed the revamped SHOC systems in early 2015. We also used the framework to develop software for the upgraded Cassegrain spectrograph on the 74-inch telescope, which went live in October 2015.
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 Sibonise, 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.
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.
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 filter wheel) are controlled from a single interface. This also allows the generated FITS data files to be populated with information from all components.
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: