The NRT top 5 for 2021

Happy New Year from the NRT team! Globally this year has been quite a whirlwind for many reasons, but arguably for the NRT it has been one of our most successful. The project, first conceptualised in 2008, reached some key milestones this year, so we want to acknowledge and celebrate how far we've come in 2021!

5. Enclosure Design confirmed

This year we also finalised the design options for the NRT's enclosure. This was not an easy decision and was based on a variety of factors such as cost, weather, operational ease, risk and aesthetics. We explored the traditional telescope dome, roll-off enclosure and clamshell designs, with both the roll-off and clamshell designs scoring almost identically. The decision to go with the clamshell came from the 17+ years' experience of operating the Liverpool Telescope's clamshell enclosure, and its very low failure rate.

An image of a large clamshell enclosure similar to that of the Liverpool Telescope
An example design of a scaled-up version of the Liverpool Telescope clamshell enclosure

4. Optical Design confirmed

Some really important decisions about the design of the NRT were locked-in this year. The most important component of an optical telescope is probably the prescription of the optical elements: the complicated interplay between primary mirror focal ratio, secondary mirror curvature, secondary mirror size (and thus primary mirror obstruction), tube length and final focal ratio.

The mirror topology was confirmed in 2020 and the optical description was decided in the summer of 2021. The NRT will have an 18 segment mirror designed to be 'co-aligned' rather than 'phased'. This is perfect for the project given that the NRT is seeing-limited and does not require high-resolution imaging.

6 images of different mirror configurations; shown as both circular and hexagonal segments in configurations of 6 and 18.
Exploring the feasibility of mirror designs before settling on the 18 hexagonal segment design (position D in the image). Éamonn Harvey.

The 18 segments will be designed and built at the Advanced Optical Systems Center (CSOA) installed at IAC headquarters. This is a unique infrastructure in Spain for the manufacture of high quality optical elements; these capabilities are available in only a few centres across the world.

Currently, the facilities are being conditioned to build optical surfaces and finishing for mirrors and filters up to 40 cm in diameter. This will allow the generation of the optics for different astronomical instruments both on the ground and in space. Metrology, polishing and coating equipment was acquired during 2021 and their installation will be completed during the first months of 2022.

Through 2022 and 2023, the centre will expand its capabilities to generate the >1 m segments for the NRT primary mirror as well as the secondary mirror.

Images of equipment and lasers for manufacturing mirrors
CSOA equipment for the optical design and manufacture of the NRT optics. IAC.

3. CCI site approval and Geotechnical-surveys

Another exciting step for the project was the confirmation of the site for the NRT. The Roque de los Muchachos (ORM) on the Canary Island of La Palma is the prime site for our optical telescope, and it is also the location of the existing Liverpool Telescope and GranTeCan telescopes. We have now had International Scientific Committee (CCI) approval to build our telescope at the site of the Carlsberg Meridian Telescope (also known as the Carlsberg Automatic Meridian Circle) at the ORM. This disused telescope will be taken to a museum, and existing buildings on site will be reused for the NRT project. The main enclosure will be demolished and a new one built in its place to house the NRT telescope.

Map showing the different telescopes on Roque de los Muchachos including the Liverpool Telescope, William Herschel Telescope and the Carlsberg Meridian Telescope.
Map of Roque de los Muchachos showing the LT, William Herschel Telescope and the confirmed site for the future NRT.

This year also brought the first activities on site, which was the first geotechnical-surveys to explore the exact composition and structure of the ground below the planned site on the ORM.

2. Funding

The NRT project is a collaboration between the UK and Spain. The universities and organisations involved in the project have been successful at bringing in a variety of grants and funding applications over the past few years. In the summer of 2021, the Science and Technology Facilities Council of the UK awarded the project £4 million from the Projects Peer Review Panel (PPRP). This was joined by £2.85 million from Liverpool John Moores University; covering the cost of the science planning, management and systems engineering work packages.

From the Spanish side, the NRT receives yearly support from the Government of the Canary Islands through the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER). The grant amounts to 2000 k€ over a period of six years. Moreover, the IAC also contributes its own funds from the Science and Innovation Ministry and the Council of Tenerife to cover technical staff, facilities and management.

The NRT receives yearly support from the University of Oviedo with a grant that amounts to 100 k€/year over a period of five years. During 2021, the Government of the Principality of Asturias also financed the hiring of personnel and the subcontracting of research tasks (250 k€). El Instituto de Ciencias y Tecnologías Espaciales de Asturias (ICTEA) also contributes its own funds from the Science and Innovation Ministry to cover technical staff, facilities and management.

The project was also granted support from the Spanish Central Government through the Reconstructions Funds to set up the infrastructure, the acquisition of equipment and required tools for the fabrication of the optics for NRT.

1. Preliminary Design Review

Finally, and perhaps the most important milestone for the project, we completed the presentation of the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to a panel of experts. The project received praise from the panel at PDR, who said that we are a skilled, knowledgeable team who are moving in the right direction to build a 4m class telescope.

A screenshot from zoom showing the different participants in the preliminary design review meeting.
A screenshot of the virtual PDR meeting