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The AAO Instrument Science Group

The instrument science group at the AAO :-


Technology Development Projects

The Instrument Science Group has an extensive research and development program that is investigating new photonic solutions that are aimed at increasing the efficiency and versatility of astronomical instruments. Several key projects are highlighted here.

Starbugs are robotic self-motile miniature mechanical lift-and-step bugs for multi-object fibre spectroscopy. These bugs represent a significant departure from traditional robotic fibre positioning systems used in astronomy that offer a number of advantages. The concept uses miniature robots that scuttle around the telescope's focal plane catching the light from distant stars and galaxies to feed bundles of optical fibres. The light guided by the optical fibres is then fed into spectrographs for measurement and scientific analysis. The collecting end of each fibre has to be placed at precisely the right spot on the focal plane where each star or galaxy is expected to fall. Hence, for each different field of stars and galaxies, all the fibres, typically several hundred to many thousands, need to be re-positioned extremely accurately and on short timescales.

Three views of a prototype robotic positioning Starbug.

Integrated Photonic Spectrographs
The size of the optical elements in traditional astronomical spectrographs scales with telescope diameter (unless the telescope is operating at the diffraction limit). For large telescopes, this leads to spectrographs of enormous size and implied cost. The Integrated Photonic Spectrograph (IPS) is a miniature photonic waveguide-based device that offers the potential to break this scaling law and to provide massively multiplexed spectroscopic capabilities for future astronomical telescopes. There are three key advantages offered by the IPS technology:

  • modularisation: by breaking the system into low-cost modular components, low-maintenance readily-expandable instruments can be constructed with a large number of elements;
  • miniaturisation: very large multiplexing capacity only becomes feasible by significantly reducing the size of each spectrograph element - this is achieved by operating the spectrograph at the diffraction limit;
  • mass production: by relying on mature lithographic fabrication techniques developed principally by the telecommunication industry we can ensure that instrument costs are not completely overwhelmed by technology development and demonstration costs.

Prototype arrayed-waveguide grating integrated photonic spectrograph. Example of spectrum of the night sky OH emission lines in H-band taken with a prototype arrayed-waveguide grating IPS.

Instrument projects

The instrument science group provides detailed scientific and engineering support to AAO instrumentation projects. Current projects include:
For a list of previous AAO design studies and instrument builds see here



The AAO Instrument Science Group work closely with the following institutes and research groups:

Contact details

Dr Jon Lawrence
Phone: +61 2 9372 4853
Fax: +61 2 9372 4880
Email: jl@aao.gov.au

Last updated October 2010