New astronomy facility comes on stream

The UK's foremost facility for the design and construction of astronomical instruments, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre [UK ATC] located at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, has expanded and streamlined its facilities following the official opening today [17th May 2005] of its new laboratories and associated offices by the Rt Hon Jack McConnell, Scottish First Minister.

"These are fantastic new facilities. Scotland is taking a leading role in the world of astronomy and more generally in scientific research and development. These facilities will provide a further boost. The work of the PPARC and their partners will help Scotland remain at the forefront of astronomy. By investing in science and carrying out high quality research, we can continue to compete and contribute as a nation of invention, innovation and discovery", said the First Minister at today's opening ceremony.

The new facilities comprise a purpose built complex incorporating a suite of state-of-the-art laboratories on a scale to match the requirements of astronomical instruments designed for the next generation of ground-based telescopes, including those with light capturing mirrors of 30 - 100 metres. Capable of handling equipment up to 10 tonnes and with a volume equivalent to 3 metres cubed the new facility will give the UK ATC the ability to meet both current 8m class and future giant 100m class telescope instrumentation needs. With the very latest manoeuvring systems, utilising air pallets and overhead lifting systems, large instrument structures can be easily transported through their various production stages. The laboratories include specialised dark and clean rooms, and a dedicated 'flexure rig' designed to simulate the operational movement of instruments on telescopes. The entire facility has anti-static floors and is kept at an ambient pressure to help prevent the ingress of dirt - of paramount importance when constructing highly sensitive scientific instruments for telescopes.

The UK ATC Director, Prof. Ian Robson, is justly proud of the new facilities, "Our expertise in optical, infrared and submillimetre waveband technology will be enhanced by the new laboratories, keeping the UK ATC at the leading edge of world astronomy. With the advent of overwhelmingly large telescopes, up to a massive 100 metres, the UK ATC is well placed to deliver novel state-of-the-art instruments to meet these demanding international challenges".

The first instrument to be built in the new facilities will be SCUBA-2, a submillimetre array capable of imaging the earliest evolutionary stages of galaxies, stars and planets at unprecedented levels. The UK ATC is prime contractor for SCUBA-2 and will manage the instrument production, assembly, integration and test in the new laboratories. SCUBA-2 is due for completion later this year and will be fitted to the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope sited on Hawaii. The UK has become the acknowledged world leader in submillimetre astronomical instruments and SCUBA-2 will maintain that global position.

Other major projects underway at the UK ATC include a key instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and construction of the VISTA 4m wide-field optical/infrared telescope for the European Southern Observatory's telescope facility in Chile.

The UK ATC is a scientific establishment of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC], the UK's strategic science investment agency.


New building image library

Cutting ribbon

Scottish First Minister, Rt Hon Jack McConnell, opening the new building, flanked by UK ATC Director, Professor Ian Robson (left) and PPARC Chief Executive Professor Richard Wade (right).


Three speakers

Scottish First Minister, Rt Hon Jack McConnell, at the opening of the new building, flanked by UK ATC Director, Professor Ian Robson (left) and PPARC Chief Executive Professor Richard Wade (right).


Jack McConnell

Scottish First Minister, Rt Hon Jack McConnell, speaking at the opening of the new building.


Background information

Research at the UK ATC

Apart from designing and building highly sophisticated astronomical instruments the UK Astronomy Technology Centre also conducts a vibrant programme of front-line astronomical research.

The UK ATC shares the Blackford Hill site with the Institute for Astronomy of The University of Edinburgh. This close proximity creates a vibrant research environment and stimulates collaborative research between members of the two institutions. The UK ATC also collaborate in holding PhD studentships, for which there are research opportunities in astrophysics and instrumentation. UK ATC staff are also involved in collaborations with numerous UK and international research groups.

Research at the UK ATC covers a broad range of topics in astronomy, but concentrates particularly in two fields. One is the observation and modelling of dust disks around nearby stars and the potential to use the disk structure to identify the presence of a planet or planetary system. The other is the formation and evolution of galaxies.


UK Astronomy Technology Centre [UK ATC]
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope [JCMT]
Mid Infrared instrument [MIRI] for James Webb Space Telescope [JWST]
Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy [VISTA]
European Southern Observatory [ESO]
Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC]

Media Contacts

PPARC Press Office
Peter Barratt
Tel: 01793 442025
Mobile: 07879 602899

Gill Ormrod
Tel: 01793 442012
Mobile: 07818 013509

Professor Ian Robson, Director
Tel: 0131 668 8438

UK ATC Press Office
Eleanor Gilchrist
Tel: 0131 668 8397

First Minister Press Office
Gareth Jones
Tel: 0131 244 3054