The Australia Telescope National Facility operates three radio telescopes: the Parkes 64m Telescope, the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), and the Mopra 22m Telescope. Scientific operation of all these is conducted by members of the investigating teams rather than by professional operators. All three can now be accessed and controlled from any location served by the internet, the telescopes themselves being unattended for part or all of the time. Here we describe the rationale, advantages, and means of implementing this operational model.
The Mopra Radio Telescope is a 22m single-dish radio telescope located near Siding Spring Observatory in New South
Wales, Australia. Its receiver systems cover the 3mm, 7mm and 12mm bands for single-dish observing, as well as the
6/3cm and 20/13cm bands used for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). The remote location of the telescope, a
good day's drive from Sydney, made it a good candidate to implement remote observing capabilities which would no
longer require observers to travel to the telescope, but bring the telescope to them. In a first step this was implemented in
a controlled environment three years ago. It enabled remote observing from a dedicated workstation at the Australia
Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) control building some 160km away from the observatory. In a second step two years
ago, remote observing was extended to allow observing from any location in the world for qualifying observers. There
were a number of challenges that needed to be addressed, from telescope safety to internet and data link reliability,
computer security, and providing the observers with adequate situation awareness tools. The uptake by observers has
been very good with over 40% of the observing in 2009 having been executed remotely. Further, many small and
unallocated time slices were able to be productively used as they would not have warranted a trip to the observatory in
their own merit but were usable thanks to remote observing. This helped push the productivity of the Mopra telescope in
2009 to the highest figure in its 17 year history.
The first Space-VLBI mission, VSOP, started successfully with the launch of the dedicated space-VLBI satellite HALCA in 1997. The
mission has been in scientific operation in the 1.6 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and studies have been done mainly of the jet phenomena related to active galactic nuclei. Observing at higher frequencies has the advantage of less absorption through the ambient plasma and less
contribution from scattering, and also has the merit of resulting in higher angular resolution observations. A second generation space-VLBI mission, VSOP-2, has been planned by the working group formed at ISAS/JAXA with many collaborators. The spacecraft is planned to observe in the 8, 22 and 43 GHz bands with cooled receivers for the two higher bands, and with a maximum angular resolution at 43 GHz
(7 mm) of about 40 micro-arcseconds. The system design, including the spacecraft and ground facilities, will be introduced, and the impact for sub-mm space-VLBI further into the future will be discussed.