LCOGT CEO Wayne Rosing Builds a 1-Meter Enclosure

On December 23, 2010, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope’s CEO Wayne Rosing and a crew of three movers from Bucks Movers and Transport Statewide arrived at LCOGT’s Goleta warehouse to see if LCOGT’s 1-meter telescope enclosures could be built in a fast and repeatable manner. “If we’re going to build fifteen of these things on mountaintops around the planet, they have to be right,” Rosing said.

Rosing has been intimately involved with many of the engineering and design decisions associated with the enclosure, but had not yet lifted a screwdriver to build one. The movers said they had plenty of experience taking things apart, but admitted, “This is the first thing we’ve built.”

John Martinez, chief designer and engineer for the project, and Jim Baumann, construction foreman for the project, both looked nervous, but Martinez said, “This will be the perfect test.”

The crew was given a set of drawings, written instructions, a closed shipping container, and a temporary foundation to work on. A gaggle of on-lookers, each experienced to greater and lesser degrees with the enclosure building process, sipped coffee and tried their best not to step in with corrections. 

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1-meter wall 01

Wayne Rosing and enclosure designer John Martinez confer over the drawings

The enclosure is a set of circular wall modules engineered and manufactured by LCOGT to protect the company’s 1-meter robotic telescopes. The dome, purchased separately from Ash-Dome, is a standard 18.5-foot rotating dome with top and bottom shutters and sits on top of the walls with an interconnecting control system. But the test was confined to the wall system. The walls and domes do not meet until they arrive on the remote observatory sites.

LCOGT has developed a “standard model” of facility design and site layout that enables the company to fabricate most components of their telescopes and enclosures at the Goleta headquarters, where strict engineering and manufacturing control is more easily applied. The modular designs allow minimal disassembly for shipping, but also facilitate rapid reassembly on site. This reduces reliance on local contractors for construction and deployment, creating a greater degree of “as-built” uniformity across all network sites.

Martinez said, “This is a very lightweight, very strong shell. It will hold up in high winds, and it easily bears the weight of the dome.”

The insulated, steel-frame walls feature lights, emergency stops, a cryocabinet to supercool the science instruments, air conditioning, a secure door, and high-volume ventilation fans. The fans help equalize interior and exterior air temperatures to significantly improve the atmospheric ‘seeing’ conditions inside the dome. 

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1-meter wall 02

Wayne Rosing and Buck, Jr. of Bucks Movers check the next step

All of these components can be controlled remotely and support complete robotic operation of the telescope, dome and walls. Most LCOGT sites will have three of these enclosures as well as three Aqawans, a smaller clamshell-style enclosure of LCOGT design, that will contain one or two smaller, 40cm, telescopes.

The 1-meter wall systems are manufactured from scratch in LCOGT’s Goleta warehouse, after which they are disassembled, and will soon be shipped and reassembled on site at locations like the mountains of Chile, South Africa, Texas, Hawaii, the Canary Islands, and others.

During the test build, the six wall modules came together quickly. It took less than two hours to create the full wall cylinder. Then the team laid down the top plate, the ring upon which the dome will sit, and leveled it. They added the doors, installed exterior metal paneling at the wall joints, and then finished off the interior walls with fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) panels. 

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1-meter wall 03

Hanging the doors on the LCOGT 1-meter walls module

“That’s the whole test,” Martinez explained. “We can’t really test the rest until the dome is installed on site.” But the test accomplished what he hoped for. LCOGT proved that, with a flat foundation and some instructions, nearly anyone can assemble one of these kit systems without error or difficulty.

“This went extremely well,” Rosing said as the movers came round to shake hands and say goodbye. “There are problems, but they are small, compared to the whole.” Then, before he left the warehouse he said, “Let’s ship it.”

The first wall kits will ship to Chile early in 2011.