BlackGEM is an array of telescopes, currently under development at the Radboud University Nijmegen and at NOVA (Netherlands Research School for Astronomy). It targets the detection of the optical counterparts of gravitational waves. The first three BlackGEM telescopes are planned to be installed in 2018 at the La Silla observatory (Chile). A single prototype telescope, named MeerLICHT, will already be commissioned early 2017 in Sutherland (South Africa) to provide an optical complement for the MeerKAT radio array. The BlackGEM array consists of, initially, a set of three robotic 65-cm wide-field telescopes. Each telescope is equipped with a single STA1600 CCD detector with 10.5k x 10.5k 9-micron pixels that covers a 2.7 square degrees field of view. The cryostats for housing these detectors are developed and built at the KU Leuven University (Belgium). The operational model of BlackGEM requires long periods of reliable hands-off operation. Therefore, we designed the cryostats for long vacuum hold time and we make use of a closed-cycle cooling system, based on Polycold PCC Joule-Thomson coolers. A single programmable logic controller (PLC) controls the cryogenic systems of several BlackGEM telescopes simultaneously, resulting in a highly reliable, cost-efficient and maintenance-friendly system. PLC-based cryostat control offers some distinct advantages, especially for a robotic facility. Apart of temperature monitoring and control, the PLC also monitors the vacuum quality, the power supply and the status of the PCC coolers (compressor power consumption and temperature, pressure in the gas lines, etc.). Furthermore, it provides an alarming system and safe and reproducible procedures for automatic cool down and warm up. The communication between PLC and higher-level software takes place via the OPC-UA protocol, offering a simple to implement, yet very powerful interface. Finally, a touch-panel display on the PLC provides the operator with a user-friendly and robust technical interface. In this contribution, we present the design of the BlackGEM cryostats and of the PLC-based control system.
We present the MeerLICHT and BlackGEM telescopes, which are wide-field optical telescopes that are currently being built to study transient phenomena, gravitational wave counterparts and variable stars. The telescopes have 65 cm primary mirrors and a 2.7 square degree field-of-view. The MeerLICHT and BlackGEM projects have different science goals, but will use identical telescopes. The first telescope, MeerLICHT, will be commissioned at Sutherland (South Africa) in the first quarter of 2017. It will co-point with MeerKAT to collect optical data commensurate with the radio observations. After careful analysis of MeerLICHT's performance, three telescopes of the same type will be commissioned in La Silla (Chile) in 2018 to form phase I of the BlackGEM array. BlackGEM aims at detecting and characterizing optical counterparts of gravitational wave events detected by Advanced LIGO and Virgo. In this contribution we present an overview of the science goals, the design and the status of the two projects.
The Radboud University Nijmegen in collaboration with the NOVA Optical Infrared Instrumentation group at ASTRON is currently leading the development and realization of the BlackGEM observing facility. The BlackGEM science team aims to be the first to catch the optical counterpart of a gravitational wave event. The BlackGEM project will put an array of three medium-sized optical telescopes at the La Silla site of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. It is uniquely equipped to achieve a combination of wide-field and high sensitivity through its array-like approach. Each BlackGEM unit telescope is a modified Dall-Kirkham-type telescope consisting of a 65cm primary mirror, a 21cm spherical secondary mirror and a triplet corrector lens. The spatial resolution on the sky will be 0.56 asec/pixel and the total field-of-view per telescope is 2.7 square degrees. The main requirement is to achieve a 5-sigma sensitivity of 23rd magnitude within a 5-minute exposure under 15 m/s wind gust conditions. This demands a very stable optical system with tight control of all the error contributions. This has been realized with a spreadsheet based integrated instrument model. The model contains all relevant telescope instrument parameters and environmental conditions. The spreadsheet is partly used for performance calculations and partly used to combine and integrate the output from several other sources. The spreadsheet model calculates the overall performance based on an Exposure Time Calculator using the Noise Equivalent Area metric (NEA). The NEA is further budgeted over 7 main High Level Requirements. The spreadsheet model is coupled to 1) a ZEMAX telescope optical model 2) a telescope FEM analysis to predict the optomechanical response under various gravity, temperature and wind load conditions, 3) a Matlab Simulink thermal model to predict the transient temperature behaviour of the most important telescope elements and 4) a Matlab Simulink control model to predict the performance of the active M2 mirror. All outputs are collected in a system performance budget that readily shows the compliance with the main High Level Requirements.