Editor's Choice


PC-based control technology for next-generation telescope

First Quarter 2021 Editor's Choice Electrical switching & drive systems & components

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a project of superlatives. After a long planning and construction period, the next-generation telescope is expected to go live in 2029. With seven mirrors and a combined diameter of 25 m, it will enable entirely new resolutions and even allow a look back into the time just after the Big Bang. PC-based control from Beckhoff was specified as the future automation equipment.

Key factors were the advantages of EtherCAT for site-wide real-time communication connecting all telescope functions. Various embedded PCs and AM8000 servomotors were also tested and specified, among other things, to move the more than 3000 motion axes.

Once installed at Las Campanas Observatory, the GMT will introduce incredible opportunities for the astrophysics and cosmology research communities. The land-based telescope design boasts a resolution 10 times greater than that afforded by the Hubble Space Telescope by combining seven mirrors into a singular optical system with a total diameter of 25 m.

Image copyright: GMTO Corporation, Chile/USA.

These advances will enable the GMT to capture images of astronomical objects sharper than currently possible by reducing distortions introduced by the terrestrial atmosphere. Scientists and engineers working on similar telescope projects have traditionally built their own automation solutions using custom control components. However, the team that is currently planning the infrastructure for the GMT sees this differently, explains GMT Organisation (GMTO) senior electronics engineer, José Soto: “We want to change the historical method of treating telescopes as special and totally unlike other automated systems. Future-facing industrial control solutions have the power to solve many problems we face today in astrophysics.”

Standards-based automation for a unique project

Specifying automation and control components for the GMT also required careful consideration due to the real-time communication and control requirements, especially considering the system will possess more than 3000 axes of motion. Beyond rotating the telescope’s 22-story-tall enclosure, the flexible mirrors must move with utmost precision to implement the complex adaptive optics in order to achieve the highest possible image resolution.

One example is the active optics system, which requires integration of 170 pneumatic actuators per primary mirror to support the mass of each mirror. The engineering team identified the need for automation and control components that were powerful now, but would also support future advances in technology. Soto adds: “Since these projects take a long time we must account for obsolescence in every aspect. The most effective method of fighting obsolescence is standardising on proven industrial technologies.”

TwinCAT software

TwinCAT 3 automation software from Beckhoff has offered a key platform to test devices, and it is specified for control of the structures around the telescope. “The PC-based controller for the telescope’s enclosure will run TwinCAT directly,” says GMTO engineer, Hector Swett. “It also provides the real-time capability to interface this massive application with the observatory control system via OPC UA. Exemplifying system openness, TwinCAT can automatically scan and configure third-party devices over ADS and EtherCAT, providing an optimal platform for all tasks from sensing to motion control.”

New technologies for creative ideas

EtherCAT first led the GMTO engineers to Beckhoff, and it remains foundational to the telescope’s control architecture design. Soto concludes: “Using EtherCAT as the GMT fieldbus enables real-time communication down to the I/O level. We have achieved cycle times of 2 ms, which allows enough bandwidth to close the loop on a range of subsystems, expanding our control and networking abilities significantly. Compact EtherCAT I/O modules and embedded PCs save space in control cabinets, and because the PC-based controllers can be located at a distance from the I/Os, this reduces heat dissipation.”

In a decade, this process of observation and discovery will not belong to the engineers designing and building the GMT, but to the astrophysicists and cosmologists using it to explore the cosmos. Researchers will have the flexibility to bring their own creative ideas when using the telescope to make great discoveries that cannot yet even be imagined.

For more information contact Dane Potter, Beckhoff Automation, +27 79 493 2288danep@beckhoff.comwww.beckhoff.co.za


Credit(s)



Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Land Cruiser wet brakes for mining
First Quarter 2021, Axiom Hydraulics , Editor's Choice, Hydraulic systems & components
Unfortunately, the vehicle’s OEM brakes are not built for mining; they compromise safety while suffering frequent and expensive maintenance. Simply put, the brakes were never designed for use in the highly ...

Read more...
PC-based control technology for next-generation telescope
Fourth Quarter 2020, Beckhoff Automation , Electrical switching & drive systems & components
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a project of superlatives. After a long planning and construction period, the next-generation telescope is expected to go live in 2029. With seven mirrors and a combined ...

Read more...
Surfing back to Earth
First Quarter 2021, Horne Technologies , Editor's Choice, Electrical switching & drive systems & components
How did life actually form on Earth? Even today this question still has not been definitively answered. There are, however, signs that asteroids or comets played an important role. In the search for additional ...

Read more...
Treading in the footsteps of the space pioneers
First Quarter 2021, Siemens Digital Industries , Editor's Choice, Electrical switching & drive systems & components
The adventure park Euro Space Centre in Transinne in Belgium is home to a number of different simulators, including the original NASA multi-axis chair dating back to the 1960s which was used to familiarise ...

Read more...
Miniature DC motors drive tattoo machine design forwards
First Quarter 2021 , Editor's Choice, Electrical switching & drive systems & components
All of this places stringent requirements on the motor – the prime mover in the tattoo machine and perhaps the most critical element of the machine design – as Vishal Sapale, assistant manager – design ...

Read more...
The future of automation
First Quarter 2021, SEW-EURODRIVE , Editor's Choice, Electrical switching & drive systems & components
MOVI-C comprises four components: MOVISUITE engineering software, MOVI-C Controller control technology, MOVIDRIVE inverter technology, and MOVIGEAR, MOVIMOT decentralised drive technology comprising the ...

Read more...
IoT communication without batteries
First Quarter 2021 , Editor's Choice, Other technologies
When we talk about IoT, we often gloss over the fact that all these interconnected things need batteries and electronics to carry out the job of collecting and processing data while they’re communicating ...

Read more...
Laser peening system for surface treatment
First Quarter 2021, Beckhoff Automation , Electrical switching & drive systems & components
Precisely synchronised surface treatment process increases fatigue life of metal parts.

Read more...
From the editor's desk: Life after coal
Fourth Quarter 2020, Technews Publishing , Editor's Choice
Renewable energy has been around for a while. But as attractive as the concept might have been, the hard reality was always that it just did not make economic sense. I remember not so many years ago doing ...

Read more...
Extending wind turbine service life
Fourth Quarter 2020, Beckhoff Automation , Electrical switching & drive systems & components
One way to prolong service life beyond the design life is to reduce the load on the main components. For instance, a 10% reduction in damage-equivalent load at the rotor blade root results in a 50% longer ...

Read more...