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Space Surveillance Telescope Australia

The Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) Australia and Support Facility is in Western Australia on the Harold E. Holt (HEH) Naval Communication Station near the town of Exmouth at an elevation of 70 meters above sea level. For military strategic reasons, the site is located at the furthest west point of Australia which puts it within a cyclonic weather region. The observatory, located only 5 kilometers from the ocean, is designed to withstand 95 meters per second (212 miles per hour) cyclonic wind loads.

M3’s scope of work for SST Australia, a joint project between the US and Australian Department of Defense (DOD), is to design an observatory and site infrastructure similar to the SST New Mexico Observatory (designed by M3) located at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.  In addition, M3 is to provide on-site quality control during construction.

The unique aspect of this project is the rotating enclosure’s high rate of acceleration and rotational speed requirements. The mission of the project is to track low orbiting satellites and space debris and the design requirements place a high priority in the ability to maintain a reliable, high-performing facility. M3 provided a unique azimuth rotational system capable of handling the high-speed requirements along with the added complexity of sustaining the survival, cyclonic wind loads. The stand-alone lateral restraint system accommodates the cyclonic forces while a separate lateral restraint system maintains the proximity and circularity of the rotating enclosure during operations.

The SST Australia enclosure is larger in diameter than the SST New Mexico enclosure which allows the project team to handle the primary mirror within the enclosure using an overhead crane. This along with a future Aluminizing Facility allows the primary mirror to be aluminized on-site instead of having to transport it to the US which adds downtime and risk to this mission-critical facility.

To expedite construction, the design documents were divided into three packages allowing the contractor to start the civil, concrete and steel scope of work while M3 finished the interior design. This along with designing the facility to very stringent Department of Defense security requirements made this project very challenging.

M3 is currently starting the design of a stand-alone power generation and backup system for SST Australia while construction continues on-site.

Giant Magellan Telescope Observatory

As telescopes grow in size with correspondingly more demanding performance specifications, the task of providing an enclosure becomes more challenging. The Giant Magellan Telescope Enclosure and Support Facilities concept design is the first study of the next generation, extremely large telescopes enclosures.

Based on the heritage of the successful Magellan Observatories, The GMT is located at Las Campánas Peak within the Las Campánas Observatory, Chile. The proposed carousel enclosure design was selected based on its efficient use of structural materials, standard and universal construction techniques and ease of implementing shutter and ventilation door concepts. This design also provides the ability to accommodate an overhead bridge crane without complicating the structural design.

Adjacent to the enclosure is the support facility which houses the project administration offices, labs and primary mirror coating chamber. Both structures are linked via a utility tunnel and exhaust system.

The GMT Enclosure and Support facility concept continues to develop as the project evolves into one of the world’s next generation observatories.

Thirty Meter Telescope Facilities

The Thirty Meter Telescope Summit Facilities are designed around the need to construct a next generation telescope observatory in a cost effective manner. The selected high altitude site of Mauna Kea, Hawaii has environmental, access and logistics challenges that along with the requirements of a very sophisticated 30-meter class telescope drive the design of the facilities.

The TMT Summit Facilities house the support spaces required to operate the next generation telescope. The facility includes administrative spaces, control room, mirror coating facilities, lab and utility space required to house all of the mechanical and electrical equipment. A visitor’s lobby provides a first class view of the telescope within the enclosure.

Currently in the design phase, the TMT Facilities when complete will house the latest, state of the art optical telescope and protect it from the severe site conditions in a functional, energy efficient building.

San Pedro Martir Telescope (SPMT)

The Institute of Astronomy of the National Autonomous University of Mexico will be constructing a 6.5m diameter telescope to be located at the National Astronomical Observatory of San Pedro Martir, Baja California within the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park. The telescope and facilities, which are in the early design phase, will be similar to the Magellan Observatory located at Las Campanas, Chile. Due to its location, the project will contend with many severe environmental conditions such as strong winds, high seismic requirements, and large diurnal temperature swings.

The design objective of the San Pedro Martir Telescope (SPMT) is to provide an observatory that is “low risk with proven solutions.” To accomplish this on a remote site, the project will reduce on-site labor by fabricating components off-site, utilize regionally available material familiar to the local labor force, and specify products and equipment that are readily available and easily maintained. Through accomplishing this objective, the project will also lay the groundwork for a competitive bid environment that is favorable both to the project cost and construction schedule.

The SPMT rotating enclosure is a traditional octagonal shape independently rotating dome that allows full movement of the telescope within the enclosure volume without the requirement of rotating the dome concurrently. The enclosure will utilize both active and passive thermal control systems to ensure optimum observing conditions.

Utilizing the Magellan Observatory as a basis of design, combined with available current technologies, the SPMT will accomplish its design objectives and provide its users with a world-class telescope observatory.

ALMA AOS Facility and Site

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) project is an internationally-owned research instrument comprised of (66) 12 meter antennas, 5,000 meters above sea level. M3’s scope of work included the design of the 10km antenna array roads, electrical and fiber optic distribution network to 192 antenna pads as well as an 18,000 square foot Technical Support Building. ALMA, being an international project, is designed to accommodate the different deliverable antenna designs and equipment from different countries.

The technical building houses all of the antenna array correlator equipment and patch panels. The building is designed to reject the entire heat load from the equipment with an economically designed air conditioning system that takes advantage of the lower temperatures of this site. An oxygen enrichment system designed to accommodate the office area can also be switched to service the equipment area during the commissioning phase.

As is the case with many other observatories, this project is on an active seismic zone with high winds and extreme temperatures. The design of the antenna foundations and the Technical Support Building focuses not only on how to structurally and architecturally meet the requirements but how to construct on a high altitude, remote site cost effectively. Material selection, preassembly of components and a well thought out thermal building envelope with a sophisticated energy management system minimizes on-site construction and long term operational costs.

Large Binocular Telescope Enclosure

The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) is the largest and most scientifically advanced telescope ever created, constructed on the remote mountaintop site of Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona. The telescope instrument has two 8.4-meter (27.6 feet) primary mirrors on the same mount.

The challenge was to design an enclosure capable of protecting a complex and precise telescope instrument in a co-rotating enclosure with intricate systems of movable shutter and ventilation doors that open skyward. This challenge was further complicated by the site location and environmental conditions.

Form follows function is the basis of the enclosure design. The most important element in this project is the telescope and its ability to view into deep space. The enclosure layout, form, construction materials and sophisticated waste heat management systems are designed to enhance the telescope performance and protect it from the elements. The result is a state-of-the-art enclosure that interacts with the telescope precisely and gracefully.

Magellan Observatories

The twin Magellan Baade and Clay 6.5 meter telescope enclosures, located at Las Campanas in Chile, is a cost effective and efficient enclosure design providing the telescopes a thermally stable and protected environment. Both enclosures are linked via a coudé tunnel and an auxiliary building which houses the mirror aluminizing equipment.

The enclosures are based on a traditional octagonal shape dome with large ventilation openings providing a well ventilated environment. Both the windscreen and moon roof along with a well insulated dome provides added protection and minimizes dome seeing.

The twin Magellan Observatories have the well-deserved reputation for superb image quality and cost effective operations. Beginning with a proven, traditional dome type and improving it with sound design principles and state of the art systems makes this observatory one of the best in its class.

Discovery Channel Telescope Observatory

The Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) Enclosure and Support Facility is designed to protect a 4.3 meter optical telescope. Located at Happy Jack, Arizona, a remote site located approximately 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, on US Forest Service (USFS) land, this facility is designed as an economical and efficient use of materials and systems. Due to the high labor cost of remote site construction, the facility is designed to minimize on-site construction labor by having system components that are assembled off-site and in the shop as much as possible. This provides a better product and lower on-site construction costs.

As cost saving measures, the facility is laid out as two separate structures. The Fixed Enclosure, Pier and Rotating Dome designed as a stand-alone structure houses the Instrumentation Lab, Control Room and Support Spaces. This structure is a highly insulated and conditioned space designed for the telescope requirements for year round use.

The octagonal dome is designed to handle a 10-ton bridge crane above the instrument for telescope erection and primary mirror removal. The ventilation openings were simplified with cost effective insulated roll-up doors that are remotely controlled along with the rest of the enclosure azimuth rotation and shutter door movement.

Space Surveillance Telescope Observatory

The SST site is approximately 80 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico at an elevation of 7,900 feet. M3’s scope of work includes all site utilities, a support building attached to a high bay receiving area, fixed enclosure and rotating dome. The rotating enclosure is octagonal with bi-parting shutter doors and ventilation openings.

One of the challenges of this high altitude project was to design and construct a facility that met all US Federal government standards, Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force Command requirements within a tight budget. The enclosure and support building is designed to very stringent security requirements as mandated by the DOD.

The unique aspect of this project is the dome’s high rate of acceleration and rotational speed. The mission of the project is to track low orbiting satellites and the facility design requirement placed a high priority on this design feature and its reliability to maintain the high level of performance at any given time. In order to assure the bogies and drives functioned at the required speeds, M3 provided an azimuth bogie and drive design with a higher safety factor and specified materials capable of handling the added localized stress on the vertical and lateral restraint rollers.

The key was to design a facility that is simple and built with standard off-the-shelf equipment and components that have proven reliability.

CFHT Dome Ventilation

Sitting atop the summit of Mauna Kea at a 13,800-foot elevation on the big island of Hawai’i, the CFHT (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope) Observatory is an astronomical facility that houses a 3.6 meter optical / infrared telescope. Scientific research and wind-flow studies generated by CFHT led to their pursuit of a dome ventilation system that minimizes dome seeing and fully exploits the potential of Mauna Kea and telescope capabilities.

M3’s scope of work was to design a ventilation unit that fit within the existing dome structure without impacting the structural integrity. Installation requirements mandated that CFHT needed to remain in operation during on-site fit up and integration.

M3’S design successfully delivered a product that worked well with the fabrication and installation requirements and challenges. M3 as part of a design-build team worked closely with the fabricator, erector and CFHT providing an economical and practical approach to the fabrication and erection of all units on-site.

As it was necessary to cut into the existing dome skin, extensive research and analysis of the steel structure was performed to validate the introduction of ventilation assembly units. A finite element analysis was completed to validate the design and provide a feasible approach to the new steel elements as well as verification of all the developed stresses in the existing structure.

Due to the remoteness and severe weather conditions, all 12 ventilation units were designed to ship and arrive on-site ready for fit-up. M3’s design allowed the contractor to cut the existing dome skin, lift the ventilation units in place at a rate of one per day minimizing the risk of inclement weather issues.

The project benefited from the collaboration between CFHT, contractors and M3, and was commended on how well the ventilation units fit to the existing dome appearance.

Gemini Observatories

M3’s design services for the Gemini 8-meter Telescope Observatory included Site Improvement and Infrastructure, Telescope Pier, Enclosure Base Facility and the adjoining Support Facility for both the observatory on Hawai’i and Chile. The facility was designed first for Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, and then site adapted and modified for Cerro Pachón, Chile.

Since the existing soil conditions for both sites were very different, M3 developed a unique and distinct telescope pier design and finite element analysis to achieve the highest telescope performance possible. The cinders on Mauna Kea versus the rock conditions on Cerro Pachón provided unique challenges not only with the telescope pier foundation but the enclosure footings as well.

As is typical of many observatories, the support building contains office and staff facilities as well as computer rooms, telescope operations room, electronics lab, instrument assembly and disassembly preparation rooms, a laser lab, an array/electronics clean lab and an opto mechanics clean lab. Extensive HVAC and control systems were designed to maintain thermal equilibrium within the facility and between the rotating enclosure and the underside of the observing level floor.

SOAR Enclosure

Located in Cerro Pachón Chile, the SOAR 4.0 meter telescope enclosure is a unique and cost effective enclosure design. In an effort to minimize weight, the SOAR dome is an insulated fiberglass dome with a steel ring beam and arch girders. This provides a very light weight structure with an up-and-over shutter door system. This type of dome structure along with state of the art dome and shutter bogies and drives makes this facility a one of a kind.

Innovation, and cutting edge design is what makes the SOAR enclosure one of the most unique observatories in the world. Perched high on the Chilean Andes, this facility and its site provide an excellent environment for this 4 meter class telescope.