Prototype of world’s largest radio telescope is a precision work of art

29. September 2023

Today, a prototype of an antenna for the next generation Very Large Array (ngVLA)—which will one day become the world’s largest radio telescope—was presented to the public. Construction by mtex antenna technology GmbH took the utmost care and technical mastery. The shape of the structure’s main reflector is based on an octagonal design. The structure consists of 724 precision machined steel struts, assembled into a framework at a size of 21×18 meters, held by more than 2500 screws, at a total weight of 43 tons.

“The reflector surface is fitted with 76 adjustable high-precision aluminum panel mirrors, so that under all environmental influences—such as temperature, wind and gravity—it will never deform by more than the thickness of three human hairs,” explains Lutz Stenvers, managing director of mtex antenna technology. “We achieved this precision through a mathematical vector optimization that allows for 9 million lines of flexibility. The entire antenna can be disassembled into multiple containers, shipped anywhere in the world, and then reassembled in a very short time.”

The core of the ngVLA will be based in the deserts of New Mexico, USA. Many scientists and engineers around the world have been working together to design this instrument, led by the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “The assembly and testing of this prototype 18-meter antenna is a major milestone in the ngVLA project,” shared Tony Beasley, director of NRAO.

This prototype antenna was presented to astronomers, engineers and the media on Thursday, September 28, 2023 as part of an Open House at mtex antenna technology in Schkeuditz. High-profile representatives from science and politics from the U.S. and Germany came together to celebrate the exciting collaboration in technological advancement and scientific discovery.

In particular, Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer shared, “Like no other state, Saxony relies on innovation and advanced technology for growth. Astrophysics in particular has produced numerous innovations, without which our everyday life would be unthinkable. The fact that parts of the world’s largest radio telescope are being constructed in Schkeuditz shows that the state is an important location for producing cutting-edge technology. By establishing a major production center in the field of astrophysics, we are creating further opportunities for even more development in Saxony, thanks to this collaboration between mtex and NRAO.”

On the picture you can see Lutz Stenvers, CEO mtex antenna technologies, Anthony Beasley, Director NRAO and Michael Kretschmer, Prime Minister of Saxony.

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