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Laser guide star within reach

Laser guide star within reach

Image: Associate Professor d’Orgeville in front of the Gemini South 8-metre telescope in Chile, during first light propagation of the Gemini South laser using old solid state laser technology (2011) Image credit: Gemini Observatory.

Image: Associate Professor d’Orgeville in front of the Gemini South 8-metre telescope in Chile, during first light propagation of the Gemini South laser using old solid state laser technology (2011) Image credit: Gemini Observatory.
The creation of a new laser system for the first Australian laser guide star that will have important and far-ranging uses in astronomy, satellite tracking and mitigation of the threat of space debris will soon be possible, following the award of a $502,453 grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Associate Professor Celine d'Orgeville, from The Australian National University (ANU), will lead the successful ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) project announced as part of the ARC Major Grants Announcement on 1 November 2016. The ARC is providing $28.6 million for 48 new LIEF projects.

The new project, to commence in 2017, will use semiconductor laser technology as a cost-effective, highly reliable and compact alternative to expensive, inefficient, bulky laser systems that are currently used.

The new infrastructure will enable the production of the first sodium laser guide star in Australian skies, and will secure Australia’s position as the premier provider of commercial-grade laser guide star adaptive optics systems for civil and defence telescopes around the world. This laser has wide scientific appeal for research with telescopes in astronomy, and for satellite tracking and mitigation of the threat of space debris.

Associate Professor d'Orgeville—currently leading Laser Guide Star activities at the ANU Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre (AITC) based at Mount Stromlo Observatory—said that this is an exciting time for the AITC.

“We are involved in a number of large projects, such as the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Space Environment Management Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), whose offices are both headquartered at Mount Stromlo Observatory,” said Professor d’Orgeville.

“The Giant Magellan Telescope is a 25-metre telescope being built in Chile which will open new horizons in astronomy and help to answer fundamental questions such as ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Are we alone in the universe?’.”

“Here in Canberra, the Space Environment Management CRC is working hard to mitigate the threat that space debris hang over modern societies’ reliance on satellite and space technologies. The ground-based telescopes used to study the universe, image satellites or track space debris all require laser guide star adaptive optics to defeat the blurring caused by atmospheric turbulence. The semiconductor guide star laser is a key component of these systems, and the AITC will now be in a position to provide a complete solution to the problem.”

“I am thrilled that the Australian Research Council is supporting our efforts in this space.”

The Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme enables higher education researchers to participate in cooperative initiatives so that expensive infrastructure, equipment and facilities can be shared between higher education organisations and also with industry.

The objectives of the scheme are to:

  • encourage Eligible Organisations to develop collaborative arrangements with other Eligible Organisations, higher education institutions and/or their Partner Organisations to develop and support research infrastructure
  • support large-scale national or international cooperative initiatives thereby allowing expensive research infrastructure to be shared and/or accessed
  • support areas of existing and/or emerging research strength
  • support and develop research infrastructure for the broader research community.

This video explains how adaptive optics works (credit: UK Astronomy Technology Centre):  Video: Taking the Twinkle out of the stars from Barbara Carcangiu on Vimeo.

Image: Associate Professor d’Orgeville in front of the Gemini South 8-metre telescope in Chile, during first light propagation of the Gemini South laser using old solid state laser technology (2011) Image credit: Gemini Observatory.

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