After completion of its final-design review last year, it is full steam ahead for the construction of the MOONS instrument - the next generation multi-object spectrograph for the VLT. This remarkable instrument will combine for the first time: the 8 m collecting power of the VLT, 1000 optical fibres with individual robotic positioners and both medium- and high-resolution spectral coverage acreoss the wavelength range 0.65μm - 1.8 μm. Such a facility will allow a veritable host of Galactic, Extragalactic and Cosmological questions to be addressed. In this paper we will report on the current status of the instrument, details of the early testing of key components and the major milestones towards its delivery to the telescope.
Additive manufacturing (AM), more commonly known as 3D printing, is a commercially established technology for rapid prototyping and fabrication of bespoke intricate parts. To date, research quality mirror prototypes are being trialled using additive manufacturing, where a high quality reflective surface is created in a post-processing step. One advantage of additive manufacturing for mirror fabrication is the ease to lightweight the structure: the design is no longer confined by traditional machining (mill, drill and lathe) and optimised/innovative structures can be used. The end applications of lightweight AM mirrors are broad; the motivation behind this research is low mass mirrors for space-based astronomical or Earth Observation imaging. An example of a potential application could be within nano-satellites, where volume and mass limits are critical. The research presented in this paper highlights the early stage experimental development in AM mirrors and the future innovative designs which could be applied using AM.
The surface roughness on a diamond-turned AM aluminium (AlSi10Mg) mirror is presented which demonstrates the ability to achieve an average roughness of ~3.6nm root mean square (RMS) measured over a 3 x 3 grid. A Fourier transform of the roughness data is shown which deconvolves the roughness into contributions from the diamond-turning tooling and the AM build layers. In addition, two nickel phosphorus (NiP) coated AlSi10Mg AM mirrors are compared in terms of surface form error; one mirror has a generic sandwich lightweight design at 44% the mass of a solid equivalent, prior to coating and the second mirror was lightweighted further using the finite element analysis tool topology optimisation. The surface form error indicates an improvement in peak-to-valley (PV) from 323nm to 204nm and in RMS from 83nm to 31nm for the generic and optimised lightweighting respectively while demonstrating a weight reduction between the samples of 18%. The paper concludes with a discussion of the breadth of AM design that could be applied to mirror lightweighting in the future, in particular, topology optimisation, tessellating polyhedrons and Voronoi cells are presented.
This paper investigates the potential role of small satellites, specifically those often referred to as CubeSats, in the future of infrared astronomy. Whilst CubeSats are seen as excellent (and inexpensive) ways to demonstrate and improve the readiness of critical (space) technologies of the future they also potentially have a role in solving key astrophysical problems. The pros and cons of such small platforms are considered and evaluated with emphasis on the technological limitations and how these might be improved. Three case studies are presented for applications in the IR region. One of the main challenges of operating in the IR is that the detector invariably needs to be cooled. This is a significant undertaking requiring additional platform volume and power and is one of the major areas of discussion in this paper. Whilst the small aperture on a CubeSat inevitably has limitations both in terms of sensitivity and angular resolution when compared to large ground-based and space-borne telescopes, the prospect of having distributed arrays of tens (perhaps hundreds) of IR-optimised CubeSats in the future offers enormous potential. Finally, we summarise the key technology developments needed to realise the case study missions in the form of a roadmap.
Future X-ray astronomy missions require light-weight thin shells to provide large collecting areas within the weight limits of launch vehicles, whilst still delivering angular resolutions close to that of Chandra (0.5 arc seconds). Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is a well-established technology with the ability to construct or ‘print’ intricate support structures, which can be both integral and light-weight, and is therefore a candidate technique for producing shells for space-based X-ray telescopes. The work described here is a feasibility study into this technology for precision X-ray optics for astronomy and has been sponsored by the UK Space Agency’s National Space Technology Programme. The goal of the project is to use a series of test samples to trial different materials and processes with the aim of developing a viable path for the production of an X-ray reflecting prototype for astronomical applications. The initial design of an AM prototype X-ray shell is presented with ray-trace modelling and analysis of the X-ray performance. The polishing process may cause print-through from the light-weight support structure on to the reflecting surface. Investigations in to the effect of the print-through on the X-ray performance of the shell are also presented.
Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, has become a commercially established technology for rapid prototyping and the fabrication of bespoke intricate parts. Optical components, such as mirrors and lenses, are now being fabricated via additive manufacturing, where the printed substrate is polished in a post-processing step. One application of additively manufactured optics could be within the astronomical X-ray community, where there is a growing need to demonstrate thin, lightweight, high precision optics for a beyond Chandra style mission. This paper will follow a proof-of-concept investigation, sponsored by the UK Space Agency’s National Space Technology Programme, into the feasibility of applying additive manufacturing in the production of thin, lightweight, precision X-ray optics for astronomy. One of the benefits of additive manufacturing is the ability to construct intricate lightweighting, which can be optimised to minimise weight while ensuring rigidity. This concept of optimised lightweighting will be applied to a series of polished additively manufactured test samples and experimental data from these samples, including an assessment of the optical quality and the magnitude of any print-through, will be presented. In addition, the finite element analysis optimisations of the lightweighting development will be discussed.
The Multi-Object Optical and Near-infrared Spectrograph (MOONS) will cover the Very Large Telescope's (VLT) field of view with 1000 fibres. The fibres will be mounted on fibre positioning units (FPU) implemented as two-DOF robot arms to ensure a homogeneous coverage of the 500 square arcmin field of view. To accurately and fast determine the position of the 1000 fibres a metrology system has been designed. This paper presents the hardware and software design and performance of the metrology system. The metrology system is based on the analysis of images taken by a circular array of 12 cameras located close to the VLTs derotator ring around the Nasmyth focus. The system includes 24 individually adjustable lamps. The fibre positions are measured through dedicated metrology targets mounted on top of the FPUs and fiducial markers connected to the FPU support plate which are imaged at the same time. A flexible pipeline based on VLT standards is used to process the images. The position accuracy was determined to ~5 μm in the central region of the images. Including the outer regions the overall positioning accuracy is ~25 μm. The MOONS metrology system is fully set up with a working prototype. The results in parts of the images are already excellent. By using upcoming hardware and improving the calibration it is expected to fulfil the accuracy requirement over the complete field of view for all metrology cameras.