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First Giant Mirror for the ESO VLT Ready at REOSC
13. novembar 1995.
In 1989, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the European Organisation for Astronomy, awarded to REOSC, a subsidiary of the SFIM Group and located in Saint Pierre du Perray (France), a comprehensive contract for the polishing of four 8.2-metre diameter mirrors for the unit telescopes of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) project. These mirrors are the largest ever manufactured and polished. This contract comprises not only the polishing and high-precision optical testing of each giant mirror, but also the safe condition of transportation of the blanks which were manufactured by Schott Glaswerke in Mainz (Germany). In order to fulfill the contract, REOSC conceived, built and equipped a novel, high-tech workshop which would allow to polish and test the mirrors, each of which has a surface area of more than 50 square metres.
First 8.2-Metre Mirror is Ready and within Specifications
The REOSC polishing facility for giant mirrors was built in Saint Pierre du Perray, just south of Paris. It is equipped with two machines: one for grinding and the other for polishing the mirrors, and both with 150-actuator systems that support the thin and flexible mirrors. All equipment is computer controlled. State-of-the-art interferometers probe the accuracy of the mirror surface as the polishing proceeds; they are installed at the top level of the facility in a 30-metre high tower, at the centre of the mirror's radius of curvature.
The success of the work at REOSC is now evident by the fact that careful measurements of the first mirror earlier this month have shown that the final optical surface is correct to within 0.00005 millimetres. For illustration, this corresponds to an accuracy of only 1 millimetre deviation over a surface with a diameter of 165 kilometres (equivalent to the entire Paris area)!
ESO Receives the First VLT Mirror
After having been carefully placed in a special transport box designed by REOSC, the first mirror blank, weighing 23.5 tons and with a replacement value of about 20 million DEM, was transported from Mainz to Saint Pierre du Perray in July 1993. The shaping and polishing phases lasted two years and were completed in October 1995. After one month's hard work, dedicated to optical and mechanical verifications by ESO and REOSC, the mirror's various characteristics have now been found to be in accordance with the contract specifications.
Following the technical acceptance, the first mirror was re-installed in its transport container on November 13, 1995. It will thereafter be formally handed over to ESO during a ceremony at REOSC on Tuesday, November 21, 1995.
The mirror will be stored at the REOSC facility until its future departure to ESO's VLT Observatory on Cerro Paranal, a 2650 m high summit in the Andean Cordillera in northern Chile. Here it will be installed in the first VLT unit telescope, soon after the assembly of the mechanical parts has been completed.
Future Plans at REOSC
The polishing of the second VLT mirror, as well as the grinding of the third mirror which was transported from Mainz to Saint Pierre du Perray at the beginning of October 1995, have already started. The transport of the fourth blank will take place in March 1996.
With the construction, in a subsequent phase, of a workshop of more than 6000 square metres and mostly dedicated to space and astronomy, the SFIM group will have invested more than 50 million French Francs at the Saint Pierre du Perray site alone. The group is also involved in the contract related to the actuator support system; this is a clear indication of its determination to maintain its position within this scientific-technological market.
In addition to the ESO VLT mirrors, REOSC will also polish the two 8.2-metre diameter mirrors of the Gemini programme of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in the United States. This important work was entrusted REOSC, following an international call for tenders, in which also US firms participated.