Collin Arocho
2 February 2021

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has selected TNO to provide key enabling technology to be integrated into the world’s largest telescope, known as the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). The ELT consists of a 39-meter primary mirror array with 15 times the light-collecting area of the largest existing telescopes. Together with corrective optics, this will allow the telescope to bring even the faintest objects into clearer view.

TNO has already proven its capabilities during the development of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), where it developed state-of-the-art optical tube assemblies for the laser launch telescopes. Now, the institute, with the help of Demcon Focal, is going to apply its expertise to design the overall laser launch system, including optics and precision mechanics to help bring deep space into focus. To achieve this, the duo will integrate TNO’s laser guide star launch telescope technology, with Demcon Focal working as a subcontractor to develop the laser beam conditioning, electronics, control systems and housing for the laser launch telescope.

Rendering of the Extremely Large Telescope. Credit: ESO

Ground-based telescopes have the power to see deep into the universe, but Earth’s atmosphere distorts the images. TNO’s laser launch telescopes project artificial stars onto the edge of the atmosphere, which offer a point of reference for the telescope. By identifying the atmospheric distortion on the known qualities of the artificial stars, the overall level of distortion can be calculated. The ELT’s adaptive mirrors can then ‘correct’ the telescope’s vision in real time to produce the clearest images possible of the specific area being explored.