Alpao to develop adaptive optics for European Extremely Large Telescope

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The European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the French company Alpao will soon be joining efforts to develop adaptive optics for extremely large telescopes in Europe. Integrating adaptive optics into the telescopes will maximise their performance such that the pictures obtained by them from the Earth’s surface will be comparable to those taken by instruments in space.

ESO and Alpao will be signing two contracts for both compact and extreme adaptive optics (XAO) deformable mirror development. These contracts enable Alpao to develop a 3,196-actuator deformable mirror through the compact project and a more than 12,000-actuator deformable mirror through the XAO project. The projects are linked to the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) adaptive optics development plan.

Adaptive optics maximises the performances of optical systems in astronomy. Using deformable computer controlled mirrors and sensors that analyse the shape of incoming light waves, large terrestrial telescopes can correct for the distortion caused by the turbulence of the Earth's atmosphere in real-time. The resulting obtained images are almost as sharp as those taken in space.

The upcoming E-ELT which is currently being developed and built by ESO, requires a new generation of deformable mirror to achieve its expected high performance. Alpao will push its technology limits to maintain top performances while increasing the number of actuators of its pre-existing deformable mirrors.

‘ESO has decided to push forward the development of different European deformable mirror technologies. The objective is to fulfil the E-ELT instrument needs. To reduce the development risks, ESO has awarded in parallel development contracts to two companies proposing different types of technologies. The technology developed by Alpao looks promising to reach the small interactuator spacing requirement, a key element to limit the size of the future E-ELT instruments. We are confident that this development will allow Alpao to fulfil the requirements for the future deformable mirrors.’ said Elise Vernet, the project manager following the deformable mirror development at ESO.

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