A 16K x 16K, 1 degree x 1 degree field, detector system was developed by ESO for the OmegaCAM instrument for use on the purpose built ESO VLT Survey Telescope (VST). The focal plane consists of an 8 x 4 mosaic of 2K x 4K 15um pixel e2v CCDs and four 2K x 4K CCDs on the periphery for the opto-mechanical control of the telescope. The VST is a single instrument telescope. This placed stringent reliability requirements on the OmegaCAM detector system such as 10 years lifetime and maximum downtime of 1.5 %. Mounting at Cassegrain focus required a highly autonomous self-contained cooling system that could deliver 65 W of cooling power. Interface space for the detector head was severely limited by the way the instrument encloses the CCD cryostat. The detector system features several novel ideas tailored to meet these requirements and described in this paper:
Key design drivers of the detector head were the easily separable but precisely aligned connections to the optical field flattener on the top and the cooling system at the bottom. Material selection, surface treatment, specialized coatings and in-situ plasma cleaning were crucial to prevent contamination of the detectors. Inside the cryostat, cryogenic and electrical connections were disentangled to keep the configuration modular, integration friendly and the detectors in a safe condition during all mounting steps. A compact unit for logging up to 125 Pt100 temperature sensors and associated thermal control loops was developed (ESO's new housekeeping unit PULPO 2), together with several new modular Pt100 packaging and mounting concepts. The electrical grouping of CCDs based on process parameters and test results is explained. Three ESO standardized FIERA CCD controllers in different configurations are used. Their synchronization mechanism for read-out is discussed in connection with the CCD grouping scheme, the shutter, and the integrated guiding and image analysis facility with four independent 2K x 4K CCDs. An illustration of the data chain performance from CCD output to storage on hard-disk gives an impression of the challenge to shift 512 MB of data within 45 seconds via the standardized hierarchical ESO data acquisition network. Finally the safety and emergency features of the overall system are presented.