Many years of experience in automation and robotization of astronomical devices resulted into the project “Development of the technologies for fast robotic observatories and laser communicating systems” based on the company's know-how. The project itself has been realized in cooperation with the Astronomical Institute UK Prague supported by Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA ČR). Within only 18 months a fully robotized observatory, which was called “Blue Eye”, was designed, built and installed.
On ultraspeed Alt/Az installation (speed of moving is up to 90°/sec) a RC optical system telescope with diameter of the mirror of 0.6m is installed. The installation which is exclusively based on industrial components including PLC Beckhoff is equipped with most modern direct-drive control. A special dome is designed so that it enables fast opening and doesn't prevent the telescope from fast moving. All modern industrial electronics is installed in a special container and a number of meteorological sensors independently care about ultimate safety of the whole observatory.
Observing can be performed in several modes such as local, remote or fully robotized ones with usage of the planning software which enables the astronomer nice calm sleep in his bed while the telescope works absolutely independently. The communication interface for customer own solutions with the protocol ASCOL is a part of the basic version. The aim of this project is universality, full automation, speed of slewing and mobility. Everything is easy to be disassembled, moved and assembled again without necessity to cast concrete pillars. That all considerably decreases installation costs.
With the kind permission of the Astronomical Institute AV ČR, v.v.i., the Blue Eye observatory is placed for testing in the premises of the observatory in Ondřejov.
The complete equipment can serve not only for astronomy but also for example for watching gamma flashes, for laser terminals or telemeters, for searching cosmic dust/satellites and so on.
We expect more other ways of usage by future customers. A turnkey delivery of the observatory includes complete installation.
The company specializes in renovation of existing astronomical telescopes, domes, spectrographs and other astronomical instruments, requiring computer control, robotic and automatic operations. We are able to guarantee quick implementation including all turn-key deliveries. We use only commercial off-the-shelf solutions and components which significantly increase lifetime of the modernized system. Moreover, this solves the essential problem of astronomical devices which is the availability of spare parts and maintenance. This way they are worldwide available regardless the supplier.
The very first implemented projects was the robotization of a miniature observatory of an amateur astronomer, Mr. Zdeněk Bardon, ProjectSoft HK a.s. (joint-stock company) - partner, followed by the implementation of control of a 0,5m telescope. These first ”astronomical swallows“ have gradually brought ProjectSoft to winning the competition and successful delivery of control system of a 2m Perek telescope to the Czech Academy of Sciences in Ondřejov Observatory.
The control system for the William Hershel telescope is the biggest project of our astronomy department. The telescope bears its name by the astronomer, telescope designer and music composer Frederick William Hershel. The telescope mirror diameter is 4.2 m, its size was the third largest in the time of the construction and is still the second largest in Europe. The telescope building is on the La Palma island, close to the peak Roque de los Muchachos.
The project goal was to replace the very old control system of the telescope, mainly the control of all telescope motors. We have chosen the Beckhoff control system, equipped with the set of distributed interface cards. TomPack system, ProjectSoft product was used as the graphical interface for operators. The part of the delivery was, among control cabinets, cabling, software and project also very complicated commissioning and tuning of all motors and their controllers, caused by the very high demands for the telescope accuracy.
The company specializes in renovation of existing astronomical telescopes, domes, spectrographs and other astronomical instruments, requiring computer control, robotic and automatic operations. We are able to guarantee quick implementation including all turn-key deliveries. We use only commercial off-the-shelf solutions and components which significantly increase lifetime of the modernized system. Moreover, this solves the essential problem of astronomical devices which is the availability of spare parts and maintenance. This way they are worldwide available regardless the supplier. Thanks to this approach, we worked on reconstruction control and full remote operation of the Danish 1.54m telescope at ESO's La Silla observatory in Chile. The telescope is remotely operated from Europe, without any on-site presence of the staff. This project was implemented in May 2012.
The main objective of the project was to extend possibilities and improve the precision of tracking of objects moving in the vicinity of the Earth. That includes not only active artificial satellites, but also satellite debris and small solar system bodies. The project results can be used for related purposes – for example in ground stations for Meteosat of the 3rd generation, GMES satellites or optical ground stations.
The original OGS control system was rather out-of date and due to this was prone to many problems such as low precision and reliability. So the main target was to develop a new control system, which would deliver higher accuracy and slewing speeds, reliability, security, easy maintenance, the possibilities of expanding its functions and openness to further related systems.
The resulted industrial control system was installed on European Space Agency (ESA)'s Optical Ground Station (OGS) which specializes in laser satellite communication.
Four of five telescopes made by Carl Zeiss Jena have been robotized by our copany.
The implementation of the robotics and control of the astronomical telescopes is a complicated task which requires knowledge and skills in many fields – mathematics, process control theory, astronomy, advanced programming skills, etc. While solving these tasks we have greatly benefited from our many years of experience of automation of different fields. The control industrial systems are more similar to the control systems of the telescopes than it might look. ProjectSoft solutions use standard industrial components and programmable controllers. This unique solution increases significantly the safety and reliability of the astronomical instruments.
Siemens's standard industrial control system was chosen for the telescope control. The complete control program runs in Programmable Logical Controller (PLC) and uses a special set of mathematical libraries developed by our company. Running all calculations in a single process without the need of remote communication guarantees maximal possible level of reliability of the system. Computers are used only for visualization and operating.The telescope is possible to control even without a PC – by using TCP/IP protocol. This solution enables a complete remote control of the observatory. In this smart way our solution avoids problems with spare parts and increases lifitime of the system.
PLC includes a pointing model, which eliminates mechanical inaccuracies of the telescope. The model significantly improves telescope slewing on new coordinates as well as its ability to track sky objects. The advanced control algorithm provides faster telescope slewing and centring, and thus reduces the dead time spent on moving a telescope to its new position. For example, the accuracy of slewing of a 2m telescope was improved from the original 300 arcseconds to the current 6 arcseconds. The pointing model includes calculation of precession, refraction, correction of abberation, nutation and others.
An external camera can be integrated into the system for fine autoguiding.
Another benefit of the system reconstruction is improved security of the telescope movement. All limit states are controlled by at least two sensors. The system monitors weather conditions and flexibly adapts to them. All dome motors are softly ramped in order to reduce vibrations.
Thanks to our 20-year experience in the field of the industrial automation we could safely use the same control system which controls production in one of the most famous Czech breweries, Budweiser České Budějovice (and not only there) also for the demanding control of astronomical telescopes. This solution brings many benefits:
In spite of higher computing power and flexibility of personal computers. The using a standard industrial programmable controller is more suitable because:
Personal computers are used only for visualization and the remote control. The telescope can also be operated without PC by using standard TCP/IP protocol. Placing the critical parts of the control of the telescope in the programmable controller and the auxiliary parts in the personal computer enables complete remote robotization of the telescope.