9 August 2016 SAAO's new robotic telescope and WiNCam (Wide-field Nasmyth Camera)
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Abstract
The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) is designing and manufacturing a wide-field camera for use on two of its telescopes. The initial concept was of a Prime focus camera for the 74” telescope, an equatorial design made by Grubb Parsons, where it would employ a 61mmx61mm detector to cover a 23 arcmin diameter field of view. However, while in the design phase, SAAO embarked on the process of acquiring a bespoke 1-metre robotic alt-az telescope with a 43 arcmin field of view, which needs a homegrown instrument suite. The Prime focus camera design was thus adapted for use on either telescope, increasing the detector size to 92mmx92mm. Since the camera will be mounted on the Nasmyth port of the new telescope, it was dubbed WiNCam (Wide-field Nasmyth Camera). This paper describes both WiNCam and the new telescope. Producing an instrument that can be swapped between two very different telescopes poses some unique challenges. At the Nasmyth port of the alt-az telescope there is ample circumferential space, while on the 74 inch the available envelope is constrained by the optical footprint of the secondary, if further obscuration is to be avoided. This forces the design into a cylindrical volume of 600mm diameter x 250mm height. The back focal distance is tightly constrained on the new telescope, shoehorning the shutter, filter unit, guider mechanism, a 10mm thick window and a tip/tilt mechanism for the detector into 100mm depth. The iris shutter and filter wheel planned for prime focus could no longer be accommodated. Instead, a compact shutter with a thickness of less than 20mm has been designed in-house, using a sliding curtain mechanism to cover an aperture of 125mmx125mm, while the filter wheel has been replaced with 2 peripheral filter cartridges (6 filters each) and a gripper to move a filter into the beam. We intend using through-vacuum wall PCB technology across the cryostat vacuum interface, instead of traditional hermetic connector-based wiring. This has advantages in terms of space saving and improved performance. Measures are being taken to minimise the risk of damage during an instrument change. The detector is cooled by a Stirling cooler, which can be disconnected from the cooler unit without risking damage. Each telescope has a dedicated cooler unit into which the coolant hoses of WiNCam will plug. To overcome an inherent drawback of Stirling coolers, an active vibration damper is incorporated. During an instrument change, the autoguider remains on the telescope, and the filter magazines, shutter and detector package are removed as a single unit. The new alt-az telescope, manufactured by APM-Telescopes, is a 1-metre f/8 Ritchey-Chrétien with optics by LOMO. The field flattening optics were designed by Darragh O'Donoghue to have high UV throughput and uniform encircled energy over the 100mm diameter field. WiNCam will be mounted on one Nasmyth port, with the second port available for SHOC (Sutherland High-speed Optical Camera) and guest instrumentation. The telescope will be located in Sutherland, where an existing dome is being extensively renovated to accommodate it. Commissioning is planned for the second half of 2016.
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Hannah L. Worters, James E. O'Connor, David B. Carter, Egan Loubser, Pieter A. Fourie, Amanda Sickafoose, Pieter Swanevelder, "SAAO's new robotic telescope and WiNCam (Wide-field Nasmyth Camera)", Proc. SPIE 9908, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy VI, 99083Y (9 August 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2231636; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2231636
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