Under the contract, the UK scientists and engineers will build 45 ultra low temperature cooling systems for ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, currently under construction at the high-altitude Llano de Chajnantor site in Chile’s Atacama desert. The project has been commissioned by ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.
ALMA will study the night sky in great detail at sub-millimetre wavelengths, observing the birth of stars and detecting the earliest galaxies created at the Big Bang.
Once completed, the cooling systems – cryostats – will be installed on each of the array antennas and will cool the detector electronics to a low temperature of 4 Kelvin (-268oC) which in turn allows the telescope’s detection system to operate.
Each of the antennas, weighing about 120 tonnes, has a dish measuring about 12m across which is surface engineered to be accurate to within 20 microns.
Prof Brian Ellison, ALMA UK project manager, at Oxfordshire-based STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) said, ‘The 45 cryostats will take four years to complete and will include support from European industry and will underpin the operation of the highly sensitive
Dr Anna Orlowska, programme manager for the cryostat activity at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said: ‘RAL has considerable expertise in the development of novel cryogenic systems and we are really pleased to be able to support ESO with the creation of the world class