The AtLAST team begins drafting the telescope design

Early in October, AtLAST project coordinator Claudia Cicone (UiO) and Work Package 2 (Telescope Design) leader Tony Mroczkowski (ESO) met in Mainz with the professional team from OHB Digital Connect (ex MT Mechatronics) working on the design of AtLAST.

group photo of eight people
Photo taken at the entrance hall of OHB Digital Connect in Mainz, Germany. In the photo from left to right: Tony, Daniel, Thomas, Claudia, Matthias, Hans, Aleksej, Pierre.

– The goal for the meeting was to review Phase I of the telescope design and the baseline design report documents that constitute the first official EU deliverables of WP2, explained Tony Mroczkowski (ESO), coordinator of the antenna design study and the engineering work (also known as Work Package 2 of AtLAST project).

At the review, Matthias Reichert and the OHB Digital Connect (ex MT Mechatronics) team detailed six months of design efforts that have culminated in a robust baseline telescope design. In remote attendance were Mike Macintosh (UK ATC in Edinburgh), who is the external system engineer, and Mike Niemack (Cornell), who plays an advisory role in the telescope optical design along with Richard Hills (Cambridge), Simon Dicker (U Penn), and Patricio “Pato” Gallardo (Chicago), who could not attend the meeting.

Sketching the most massive steerable objects on Earth

photo of a man thinking over at work with laptop and notes
"AtLAST will be one of the most massive steerable objects on Earth, yet must also be able to point and track to tiny fractions of a degree", commented Mroczkowski at the meeting.

The meeting commenced with the overall observational and technical requirements for AtLAST, including size, ability to accommodate many instruments, field of view, surface accuracy, scan speed and acceleration, and approaches that will enable observations of the Sun.

– The OHB team outlined the many challenges we have met throughout this phase, and the innovations the entire team has come up with to address them, said Mroczkowski, happy with the progress.

One of the most transformative aspects of AtLAST will be its mapping speed, which drives our design requirement to have an instantaneous field of view larger than any submillimeter or millimeter-wave large (>10 -meter) telescope has ever had. This also presents an incredible challenge.

– Optically, the work by Richard, Pato, and Simon has shown that the baseline design conceived by Hans and the OHB team can be made to reach the one degree diameter requirement at a 1.2 mm wavelengths, and deliver the goal of a two degree field of view a longer wavelengths (> 2 mm) and achieving excellent performance at wavelengths as short at 350 microns over the central 0.1 degree, explained Mroczkowski.

Versatile and accurate

Another salient feature of AtLAST is that it will serve a wide range of science cases.

– We are happy to report that our baseline design can likely accommodate six instruments, rather than the 4 originally envisioned. A robotic tertiary mirror will allow operators to optically select the receiver or camera desired relatively quickly, perhaps only a matter of seconds, he continued.

The goal of enabling observations at frequencies as high as ~950 GHz (350 microns) places a strong requirement on the surface accuracy and alignment.

– A key goal of phase 2 will be to develop the ideas proposed in phase 1 to deliver the live metrological system and ability to correct for the complex interplay of environmental conditions (wind, heat) and the shifting mass and mechanical stresses of a moving structure taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa! All of these features must work even while the telescope is scanning at a fast rate, clarified Mroczkowski.

Ready to face (multifaceted) challenges

And finally, the site itself will present many challenges. OHB has begun to outline plans for construction and testing which will be further developed in Phase 2 of the work. Most importantly, Phase 2 will address the multifaceted challenges of detailed telescope engineering, including full end-to-end simulations accounting for the demands of such a large moving structure in one of Earth’s highest, driest deserts.

– We are pleased to report that we are moving forward with the baseline design, which should meet the science goals of AtLAST when fully engineered, concluded Mroczkowski.

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The team at OHB Digital Connect (ex MT Mechatronics)

The team at OHB works on the structural design, electronical, mechanical, and control systems engineering that will meet the stringent optical and drive systems requirements of AtLAST. The OHB team is led by Matthias Reichert, and includes Martin Timpe, Aleksej Kiselev, Pierre Dubois, Daniel Bok, and Thomas Zimmerer (OHB Digital Connect telescope design division director). The team also benefits greatly from external consultation from Hans J. Kärcher, who brings five decades of experience with telescope design.

logo OHB Digital

The WP2 - Design study

Researchers at European Southern Observatory (ESO) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), working with industrial partner OHB Digital Connect GmbH will deliver the telescope design study. The study is divided in two phases:

  1. first, a so-called “baseline telescope design” will be defined, after exploring a wide range of design parameters and cost vs performance tradeoffs that would allow us to meet the ambitious AtLAST science goals.
  2. The second stage is an engineering phase that culminates in a price proposal for construction and delivers the final “conceptual telescope design”.

Contact information:

For more info on AtLAST- design study visit

Tags: WP2-Design, Observational techniques, AtLAST, consortium By Martina D´Angelo, Tony Mroczkowski
Published Oct. 20, 2021 1:20 PM - Last modified Aug. 9, 2022 4:52 PM