The Very Large Telescope Interferometer Auxiliary Telescopes will soon be equipped with an adaptive optics system called NAOMI. The corrective optics deformable mirror is the commercial DM241 from ALPAO. Being part of an interferometer operating from visible to mid-infrared, the DMs of NAOMI face several challenges (high level of reliability, open-loop chopping, piston-free control, WFS/DM pupil rotation, high desired bandwidth and stroke). We here describe our extensive characterization of the DMs through measurements and simulations. We summarize the operational scenario we have defined to handle the specific mirror properties. We conclude that the ALPAO DMs have overall excellent properties that fulfill most of the stringent requirements and that deviations from specifications are easily handled. To our knowledge, NAOMI will be the first astronomical system with a command in true Zernike modes (allowing software rotation), and the first astronomical system in which a chopping is performed with the deformable mirror (5” sky, at 5 Hz).
The near-infrared GRAVITY instrument has become a fully operational spectro-imager, while expanding its capability to support astrometry of the key Galactic Centre science. The mid-infrared MATISSE instrument has just arrived on Paranal and is starting its commissioning phase. NAOMI, the new adaptive optics for the Auxiliary Telescopes, is about to leave Europe for an installation in the fall of 2018. Meanwhile, the interferometer infrastructure has continuously improved in performance, in term of transmission and vibrations, when used with both the Unit Telescopes and Auxiliary Telescopes. These are the highlights of the last two years of the VLTI 2nd generation upgrade started in 2015.
The New Adaptive Optics Module for Interferometry (NAOMI) is ready to be installed at the 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) at ESO Paranal. NAOMI will make the existing interferometer performance less dependent on the seeing conditions. Fed with higher and more stable Strehl, the fringe tracker will achieve the fringe stability necessary to reach the full performance of the second-generation instruments GRAVITY and MATISSE. All four ATs will be equipped between September and November 2018 with a Deformable mirror (ALPAO DM-241), a 4*4 Shack– Hartmann adaptive optics system operating in the visible and an RTC based on SPARTA Light. During the last 6 months thorough system test has been made in laboratory to demonstrate the Adaptive Optics and chopping capability of NAOMI.
The upgrade of the VLTI infrastructure for the 2nd generation instruments is now complete with the transformation of the laboratory, and installation of star separators on both the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) and the 8-m Unit Telescopes (UTs). The Gravity fringe tracker has had a full semester of commissioning on the ATs, and a first look at the UTs. The CIAO infrared wavefront sensor is about to demonstrate its performance relative to the visible wavefront sensor MACAO. First astrometric measurements on the ATs and astrometric qualification of the UTs are on-going. Now is a good time to revisit the performance roadmap for VLTI that was initiated in 2014, which aimed at coherently driving the developments of the interferometer, and especially its performance, in support to the new generation of instruments: Gravity and MATISSE.
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.
PIONIER is a four beams combiner instrument developed by the Astrophysics Laboratory of Grenoble (LAOG, now IPAG). This instrument arrived at the ESO Paranal Interferometer in 2010 as a visitor instrument and was supposed to be decommissioned with the arrival of the second generation instruments GRAVITY and MATISSE. However, the success of PIONIER induced the needs to keep it available for the scientific community inside the packed environment of the VLTI. This paper presents the technical solutions that were applied to place the instrument in mezzanine without impacting its performance and with the constraint of reducing its operational workload.
The RAPID camera is an Avalanche Photo Diode array allowing very fast observation from the optical to the infrared with still a low noise per read. The camera born from a large collaboration within the FUI/FOCUS is intensively tested at IPAG (Grenoble) on an interferometric bench and will soon replace the actual camera of the PIONIER interferometer mounted on the visitor focus of the VLTi. We shortly present here the PIONIER instrument design and success to then focus on the RAPID tested performances. We will then resume the performance tests made on sky with the PIONIER. The RAPID camera is the first IR APD matrix ever mounted on an on-sky astronomical instrument. We show here how this fast, low-noise, large-band and sensitive camera improves PIONIER and the optical interferometry in general.
We present the latest update of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope interferometer (VLTI). The operations of VLTI have greatly improved in the past years: reduction of the execution time; better offering of telescopes configurations; improvements on AMBER limiting magnitudes; study of polarization effects and control for single mode fibres; fringe tracking real time data, etc. We present some of these improvements and also quantify the operational improvements using a performance metric. We take the opportunity of the first decade of operations to reflect on the VLTI community which is analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively. Finally, we present briefly the preparatory work for the arrival of the second generation instruments GRAVITY and MATISSE.
We report in this paper decisive advance on the detector development for the astronomical applications that require very fast operation. Since the CCD220 and OCAM2 major success, new detector developments started in Europe either for visible and IR wavelengths. Funded by ESO and the FP7 Opticon European network, the NGSD CMOS device is fully dedicated to Natural and Laser Guide Star AO for the E-ELT with strong ESO involvement. The NGSD will be a 880x840 pixels CMOS detector with a readout noise of 3 e (goal 1e) at 700 Hz frame rate and providing digital outputs. A camera development, based on this CMOS device and also funded by the Opticon European network, is ongoing. Another major AO wavefront sensing detector development concerns IR detectors based on Avalanche Photodiode (e- APD) arrays within the RAPID project. Developed by the SOFRADIR and CEA/LETI manufacturers, the latter offers a 320x255 8 outputs 30 microns IR array, sensitive from 0.4 to 3 microns, with less than 2 e readout noise at 1600 fps. A rectangular window can also be programmed to speed up even more the frame rate when the full frame readout is not required. The high QE response, in the range of 70%, is almost flat over this wavelength range. Advanced packaging with miniature cryostat using pulse tube cryocoolers was developed in the frame of this programme in order to allow use on this detector in any type of environment. The characterization results of this device are presented here. Readout noise as low as 1.7 e at 1600 fps has been measured with a 3 microns wavelength cut-off chip and a multiplication gain of 14 obtained with a limited photodiode polarization of 8V. This device also exhibits excellent linearity, lower than 1%. The pulse tube cooling allows smart and easy cooling down to 55 K. Vibrations investigations using centroiding and FFT measurements were performed proving that the miniature pulse tube does not induce measurable vibrations to the optical bench, allowing use of this cooled device without liquid nitrogen in very demanding environmental conditions. A successful test of this device was performed on sky on the PIONIER 4 telescopes beam combiner on the VLTi at ESOParanal in June 2014. First Light Imaging, which will commercialize a camera system using also APD infrared arrays in its proprietary wavefront sensor camera platform. These programs are held with several partners, among them are the French astronomical laboratories (LAM, OHP, IPAG), the detector manufacturers (e2v technologies, Sofradir, CEA/LETI) and other partners (ESO, ONERA, IAC, GTC, First Light Imaging). Funding is: Opticon FP7 from European Commission, ESO, CNRS and Université de Provence, Sofradir, ONERA, CEA/LETI the French FUI (DGCIS), the FOCUS Labex and OSEO.