The largest research telescope in Florida, a DFM 1-m Ritchey-Chrétien (RC) Cassegrain telescope, was installed in February 2014 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) on top of the new 140,000 sq. ft. College of Arts and Sciences building.
The new building is the largest structure on the ERAU campus, featuring a large observatory and containing the classrooms, labs and faculty offices of four departments — Physical Sciences, Mathematics, Human Factors and Humanities & Social Sciences.
A suite of rooms on the fifth floor makes up the university's new astronomical observatory; a Physics and Astronomy Lab, the Observatory Control Room, the Observatory Workshop and the Observatory.
The campus has a profound and dramatic new skyline with this additional building.
"The new building is superior to our previous facilities in every way possible," said Dr. Bill Grams, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences." In Physical Sciences alone, we now have 25 labs dedicated to astronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric and space physics, control theory and engineering physics."
Crowning the building is the observatory that houses the 1-m telescope.
Dr. Frank Melsheimer of DFM Engineering worked closely with Dr. Robert Fleck, Physical Sciences Interim Department Chair, and Mr. Damon Burke, Atmospheric Physics Research Specialist through the various stages of planning and development of the observatory.
Critical design elements were considered in the construction of the observatory pier, dome, control room traffic flow patterns and other relevant criteria because the observatory is located on the fifth floor of the building.
The modern design, weight and location of the observatory called for special structural considerations to be made.
Dr. Melsheimer consulted on the structural design and the orientation of the very tall steel pier for the telescope.
The ERAU observatory dome is 32 feet in diameter and weighs nine tons.
The dome is controlled and moves with the 1-m DFM telescope using custom software developed by DFM.
DFM manufactured the telescope optics, including the field corrector. The 3-element field corrector enhances off-axis performance and reduces astigmatism. Typical DFM Cassegrain telescope optics include an F/3 primary mirror and an effective focal ratio between F/8 and F/18.
Both primary and secondary mirrors were made with near zero expansion substrates.
The ERAU telescope optics were ground, polished, figured, and tested at the DFM Engineering facility in Longmont and are of very high quality.
For more information on the standard optics features of the DFM 1-m telescope, please contact DFM Engineering or review the DFM Telescope Optics product page.
The state of the art custom telescope control system (TCSGalil™) provided by DFM includes dome azimuth and dome shutter control. The observatory dome can follow the movements of the telescope automatically.
DFM's custom TCSGalil™ is located in the observatory control room providing local and remote observing capabilities. The TCSGalil™ includes a GPS receiver for precise time acquisition.
The TCSGalil™ at ERAU provides a user-friendly interface to the telescope with simple operation commands divided into four submenus: initialization, movement, rates and miscellaneous. The custom system software for ERAU allowed for 360 degree rotation among other features.
For more technical information on the telescope control system provided by DFM, please contact DFM Engineering or review the DFM Telescope Control Systems information page.
The DFM installation team members were: Mr. Richard Neel, Foreman, and Mr. Ian Huss, Production Manager, who led the installation and worked with the crane operator and ERAU staff members.
Telescope installation required the use of a very large crane capable of hoisting each section of the telescope up above the fifth floor.
Each telescope section, in turn, was guided carefully through the slit in the observatory. Fortunately, the wind and rain held off until after the last large telescope section was safely inside the observatory dome.
'Crane day' of the installation proved very successful.
Once all the large telescope sections were assembled in the observatory, final assembly began.
A smaller crane within the observatory was installed to lift optical elements into final positions.
The large observatory provided a spacious environment for the remaining assembly procedures.
The primary mirror was unpacked, mounted in its cell, and attached to the optical tube assembly.
The secondary mirror, focus housing and spider ring were installed.
As the telescope was assembled, the custom DFM Telescope Control System Galil™ (TCSGalil™) was installed in the nearby Observatory Control Room.
The final testing phase began with finding focus in the main optics and alignment of the finder telescope. After collimation, first light images were taken. Alignment drift tests guided rough polar alignment. Pointing data was taken that allowed the DFM team to improve the alignment and then remove residual Azimuth and Elevation misalignments demonstrating pointing of better than 12 arc seconds RMS. Recordings of long tracking measurements confirmed the excellent tracking performance of the telescope.
Training sessions for ERAU personnel using the new telescope were lively and productive.
"The new telescope collects more light with new high-efficiency detectors, so it can see objects much dimmer than we can see now," Dr. Peter Erdman, Physics Professor said, "meaning visibility will be excellent despite the night-time lights of Daytona Beach."
Additionally, to reach a larger audience, images from the telescope will be displayed on monitors throughout the building as ERAU continues its tradition of inviting the general public to view the night sky.
"This telescope will allow for students and faculty to research diverse possible topics, such as the study of potentially hazardous, nearby asteroids and comets; the ages and evolution of stars; the large-scale structure of galaxies; unusual compact objects such as pulsars, quasars and magnetars; and planets outside our solar system," said Terry Oswalt, the department chair.
"It launches a new bachelor's degree program in astronomy and astrophysics beginning this August," Dr. Oswalt said.
Custom Classical Cassegrain Telescopes
Telescope Control Systems (TCSGalil™)
Observatory Design and Consulting