Nigel is a fiber-fed UV/visible grating spectrograph with a thermoelectrically-cooled 256×1024 pixel CCD camera,
designed to measure the twilight and night sky brightness from 300nm to 850 nm. Nigel has three pairs of fibers,
each with a field-of-view with an angular diameter of 25 degrees, pointing in three fixed positions towards the
sky. The bare fibers are exposed to the sky with no additional optics. The instrument was deployed at Dome A,
Antarctica in January 2009 as part of the PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) robotic observatory. During the 2009
winter, Nigel made approximately six months of continuous observations of the sky, with typically 104 deadtime
between exposures. The resulting spectra provide quantitative information on the sky brightness, the auroral
contribution, and the water vapour content of the atmosphere. We present details of the design, construction
and calibration of the Nigel spectrometer, as well some sample spectra from a preliminary analysis.
For continuous observation at locations that are inhospitable for humans, the desirability of autonomous observatories is
self evident. PLATO, the 'PLATeau Observatory' was designed to host an easily configurable instrument suite in the
extremely cold conditions on the Antarctic plateau, and can provide up to 1 kW of power for the instruments. Powered
by jet fuel and the Sun, PLATO and its instruments have been taking nearly uninterrupted astronomical science and sitetesting
data at Dome A, the coldest, highest and driest location<sup>1</sup> on the Antarctic Plateau, since their deployment by the
24th Chinese expedition team in January 2008. At the time of writing, PLATO has delivered a total uptime of 730 days.
Following a servicing mission by the 25th Chinese expedition team in 2008-9, PLATO has achieved 100% up-time (520
days) and has been in continuous contact with the rest of the world via its Iridium satellite modems. This paper discusses
the performance of the observatory itself, assesses the sources of energy and dissects how the energy is divided between
the core observatory functions of instrument power, heating, control and communication.
Over a decade of site testing in Antarctica has shown that both South Pole and Dome C are exceptional sites for
astronomy, with certain atmospheric conditions superior to those at existing mid-latitude sites. However, the highest
point on the Antarctic plateau, Dome A, is expected to experience colder atmospheric temperatures, lower wind speeds,
and a turbulent boundary layer that is confined closer to the ground. The Polar Research Institute of China, who were the
first to visit the Dome A site in January 2005, plan to establish a permanently manned station there within the next
decade. As part of this process they conducted a second expedition to Dome A, arriving via overland traverse in January
2008. This traverse involved the delivery and installation of the PLATeau Observatory (PLATO). PLATO is an
automated self-powered astrophysical site testing observatory, developed by the University of New South Wales. A
number of international institutions have contributed site testing instruments measuring turbulence, optical sky
background, and sub-millimetre transparency. In addition, a set of science instruments are providing wide-field high time
resolution optical photometry and terahertz imaging of the Galaxy. We present here an overview of the PLATO system
design and instrumentation suite.
PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) is the third-generation astronomical site-testing laboratory designed by the University
of New South Wales. This facility is operating autonomously to collect both scientific and site-testing data from
Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic plateau, at an elevation of 4093m. We describe the power generation and
management system of PLATO. Two redundant arrays of solar panels and a multiply-redundant set of small diesel
engines are intended to provide 1-2kW of electrical power for a full year without refueling or other intervention. An
environmental chamber has been constructed to study the
high-altitude performance of the diesel engines, and suitable
cold-starting procedures and engine lubrication techniques have been developed. PLATO's power system is an
innovative solution with wide applicability to small astronomical facilities on the Antarctic plateau, offering minimum
environmental impact and requiring minimal human intervention.