The IRAIT (International Robotic Antarctic Infrared Telescope) is a project based on a 80 cm aperture telescope aimed to observe in the infrared range from Antarctica. It started to operate in 2008. Thanks to the exceptional coldness, low sky brightness and low content of water vapor of the sky above Dome C, one of the three highest peaks of the large Antarctic plateau, is likely to be the best site on Earth for thermal infrared observations (2.3-300 ?m) as well as for the far infrared range (30 ?m-1mm). IRAIT (International Robotic Antarctic Infrared Telescope) is the first European Infrared telescope operating at Dome C. IRAIT offers a unique opportunity to test and verify the astronomical quality of the site, the Antarctica observation procedures, and provides a useful test-instrument for a new generation of telescopes and focal plane instruments able to operate from Antarctica.
The IRAIT project is an international cooperation between Perugia University, Teramo Observatory, Torino Astronomical Observatory, Nice-Antipolis University, Granada University and the Institute of Space Sciences.
Aim of our participation
Our contributions (together with the University of Granada), have been mainly focused in developing the moving optical system for the secondary (M2) and tertiary (M3) mirrors of the telescope. Moving parts of the optical system provide focusing and chopping capabilities, implemented in M2, and a rotation mechanism, implemented in M3, allow observation in either Nasmyth foci. The work package includes the design and construction of both mirrors, the mechanical supports, the electronics and the control software, all prepared to work at the low temperatures at Antarctica. A Spanish company, fully space qualified, NTE, was contracted to carry out the instrument. Tests at low temperature and integration in the telescope were finished during summer 2006, and sent to Antartica.
After seven years in Dome C and, as a consequence of a series of problems in the secondary mirrors (as well as in other parts of the telescope), a team from IEEC-CSIC/IEEC-OAdM/U. Granada was created to examine the situation. One of the members of the Institute (F. Vilardell) moved to Concordia Station during the Antarctic Summer 2015/16 to inspect in situ the state of the instrument. The recommendation was to improve the robustness of the electronics of the auxiliary mirrors to avoid failures in the future. At present, these mirrors are being repaired at our facilities.
Senior Institute members involved