China will now use robots to maintain its FAST telescope
China will soon allow intelligent robotic systems and platforms to provide maintenance services for the nation's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), dubbed as the 'China Sky Eye’ and known as the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, the China Media Group (CMG) announced on Friday.
The news was reported by CGTN after the robotic systems passed several tests ensuring they were ready for this lofty task.
The efforts to maintain the telescope through the use of robots were led by the Guizhou Radio Astronomy Observatory and 10 other organizations including the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Harbin Institute of Technology.
The telescope boasts a reception area equivalent to 30 standard football fields, making its maintenance a complicated ordeal. The new robots will serve to ensure the telescope operates at maximum capacity while increasing its observation duration and efficiency by several days.
"The intelligent robots are expected to add about 30 days to the telescope's observation period annually," told CGTN Jiang Peng, FAST's chief engineer.
The robots are deemed intelligent and will primarily serve to test the “supporting cables and pulleys of FAST's feed, the automatic maintenance of its actuators and laser targets on the reflector, the disassembling and installation of feed receivers, the monitoring of radio interference, and the all-weather measurement of its 30-tonne feed cabin,” noted CGTN.
One robot in particular is of instrumental importance and that is the feed cabin all-weather smart measurement robot. This machine can effectively tackle the technical difficulties of large-scale, high-precision, high-dynamic, and all-weather measurement under the field conditions present in and around the FAST telescope.
It was developed by the National Astronomical Observatory and consists of a multi-system data fusion measurement tool based on microwave ranging technology, the first of its kind ever.
It serves to secure the cooperation of telescopes under the challenging weather conditions found in Guizhou Province.
The reflective surface laser target maintenance robot, which can ensure the safety of the telescope's actuators and laser targets found on its reflector, is also of crucial importance.
Jointly engineered by the Institute of Automation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Astronomical Observatory, and Guizhou Radio Astronomy Observatory, this robot consists of a smart device that can tackle all at once the cleaning, disassembly, and replacement of laser targets.
So far, it has been responsible for the replacement and maintenance of FAST reflector laser targets. This robotic solution will help to resolve long standing issues relating to low manual maintenance efficiency and climatic conditions restricting observation.