After 20 years of operations, the Paranal Observatory has accumulated some experience with maintenance of systems, and has lately adopted the methodology called ‘Maintien en Condition Operationnelle’ (MCO). We will describe and review the practical implementation of this strategy, the tools used, the benefits and challenges as well as practical examples and how it is overall managed. The approach is also a benchmarking exercise for operation of the ESO-ELT in the future.
For almost two decades, large volumes of technical data, in a variety of formats, have resulted from the normal operations at the observatory. Similarly, in the last few years, dealing with huge amounts of data has become a priority for several industries, and as consequence, terms like "Big Data" or "Data Lake" have started to be more and more commonly used. Under these circumstances, frameworks and tools have proliferated and later released as "Open Software"; the hardware, on the other hand, has also changed giving the power to deal with this volume of data in a reasonable timeframe, and at a reasonable price.
We hereafter present the first version of a modern data lab developed for the Maintenance Support and Engineering Department (MSE) at the Paranal Observatory, “The MSE DataLab”. This DataLab will allow us to take advantage of this new technological evolution and to be prepared for the current and further challenges to come. These challenges, of course, refer to improving the overall observatory dependability (Reliability, Availability and Maintainability) by supporting the operations in our current and forthcoming telescopes. First, in our Very Large Telescopes (VLT), the VLT Interferometer (VLTI) and the survey telescopes (VISTA and VST). Secondly, in the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA).
ESO is undertaking a large upgrade of the infrastructure on Cerro Paranal in order to integrate the 2nd generation of interferometric instruments Gravity and MATISSE, and increase its performance. This upgrade started mid 2014 with the construction of a service station for the Auxiliary Telescopes and will end with the implementation of the adaptive optics system for the Auxiliary telescope (NAOMI) in 2018. This upgrade has an impact on the infrastructure of the VLTI, as well as its sub-systems and scientific instruments.
The MACAO curvature wavefront sensors have been designed as a generic adaptive optics sensor for the Very Large Telescope. Six systems have been manufactured and implemented on sky: four installed in the UTs Coudé train as an AO facility for the VLTI, and two in UT’s instruments, SINFONI and CRIRES. The MACAO-VLTI have now been in use for scientific operation for more than a decade and are planned to be operated for at least ten more years. As second generation instruments for the VLTI were planned to start implementation in end of 2015, accompanied with a major upgrade of the VLTI infrastructure, we saw it as a good time for a rejuvenation project of these systems, correcting the obsolete components. This obsolescence correction also gave us the opportunity to implement improved capabilities: the correction frequency was pushed from 420 Hz to 1050 Hz, and an automatic vibrations compensation algorithm was added. The implementation on the first MACAO was done in October 2014 and the first phase of obsolescence correction was completed in all four MACAO-VLTI systems in October 2015 with the systems delivered back to operation. The resuming of the scientific operation of the VLTI on the UTs in November 2015 allowed to gather statistics in order to evaluate the improvement of the performances through this upgrade. A second phase of obsolescence correction has now been started, together with a global reflection on possible further improvements to secure observations with the VLTI.
The high multiplex advantage of VIMOS, the VLT visible imager and multi-object/integral-field spectrometer, makes it
a powerful instrument for large-scale spectroscopic surveys of faint sources. Following community input and
recommendations by ESO's Science and Technology Committee, in 2009 it was decided to upgrade the instrument. This
included installing an active flexure compensation system and replacing the detectors with CCDs that have a far better
red sensitivity and less fringing. Significant changes have also been made to the hardware, maintenance and operational
procedures of the instrument with the aim of improving availability and productivity. Improvements have also been
made to the data reduction pipeline. The upgrade will end in 2012 and the results of the program will be presented here.
The ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) offers access to the four 8-m Unit Telescopes (UT) and
the four 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes (AT) of the Paranal Observatory located in the Atacama Desert in
northern Chile. The two VLTI instruments, MIDI and AMBER deliver regular scientific results. In parallel to the
operation, the instruments developments are pursued, and new modes are studied and commissioned to offer
a wider range of scientific possibilities to the community and increase sensitivity. New configurations of the
ATs have been offered and are frequently discussed with the science users of the VLTI and implemented to
optimize the scientific return. The PRIMA instrument, bringing astrometry capability to the VLTI and phase
referencing to the instruments is being commissioned. The visitor instrument PIONIER is now fully operational
and bringing imaging capability to the VLTI.
The current status of the VLTI is described with successes and scientific results, and prospects on future
evolution are presented.