Our projects

Our projects

Technology at AAOA man working on a piece of machinery

AAO designs and builds instruments for astronomical telescopes. It also develops new technologies for use in future instruments. Astronomical instruments are used to collect data in the form of images and spectra from astronomical sources such as stars, galaxies, and nebulae.

Astronomical instruments typically comprise bulk-optics (lenses, mirrors, diffraction gratings, filters), photonic elements (optical-fibres and waveguides), mechatronics (fibre positioning robots and alignment mechanisms), and detectors (CCDs and infrared arrays).

New instruments


AESOP AESOP is the fibre positioner unit for the 4MOST instrument planned for the 4-metre European Southern Observatories VISTA telescope in Chile. The 4MOST project, led by the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam (Germany), involves a number of European partners. The AAO component, AESOP, deploys 2400 optical fibres to required positions on the curved focal surface of the telescope. Each fibre can be deployed anywhere within a fixed patrol area.

Field reconfigurations are achieved in an iterative closed-loop process with positional feedback from a metrology system. Optical fibres are connectorised at their exit from the positioner system, where they feed a fibre bundle terminated a series of optical spectrographs. The proposed design for AESOP is an evolution of the AAO’s tilting spine technology, first designed and implemented in the FMOS-Echidna instrument for the Subaru telescope.



The Gemini High-Resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST) instrument is the newest instrument being developed for the Gemini telescopes, in a collaboration between the AAO, the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada, and the Australian National University.

GHOST uses a high resolution asymmetric white-pupil Echelle spectrograph fed by two moveable optical-fibre image-slicing integral-field-units located at the Gemini Cassegrain focus. The instrument provides a simultaneous wavelength coverage from 363nm to at least 900nm at a resolution of R=50k-75k. GHOST is designed scheduled for commissioning 2017.



Hector is the next major dark-time instrument for the AAT and is a multi integral-field-unit spectrograph aimed at obtaining a low-redshift galaxy survey of up to 30,000 galaxies, with 90% imaged out to 2 effective radii.

Hector will decipher the diversity of galaxies through understanding the physical basis for their individuality.

The key science questions for this instrument include how do galaxies build up mass and angular momentum? How is star formation and nuclear activity affected by environment? What is the role of feedback? And, How does large-scale environment modulate galaxy growth through tidal torques and gas accretion?

Hector will be built in stages and the first stage called Hector-I is under construction.

Hector-I on 2dF:

  • Will employ the first new Hector spectrograph (blue and red arm) alongside the existing AAOmega spectrograph, with 13 current SAMI hexabundles plus ~8 new larger hexagonally-packed hexabundles with up to 217 fibre cores each.
  • Combination robotic and manual positioning.
  • Science operations by early-2019.
  • Offers significant science gains over SAMI with increases in survey speed, galaxy coverage to 2 effective radii for most galaxies and higher spectral resolution.
  • Will deliver the only IFS survey large enough to connect galaxy evolution and kinematics to large-scale-structure to explain the evolutionary history leading to individuality of galaxies.

Hector-II on 2dF:Hector costs

  • Will be an extension of Hector-I by adding new modules. Each module is one Hector spectrograph (blue and red arm) plus 10 new larger hexagonally-packed hexabundles with up to 217 fibre cores each.
  • Allows a faster survey speed and higher fraction of galaxies imaged to 2 effective radii.
  • Modules will be added as funding becomes available.

(There are three tabs under Hector: Overview, Instrument Team and Galaxy survey Team. I’ve just included the overview here).



MANIFEST is a fibre positioner designed to feed all the natural seeing spectrographs, presently GCLEF and GMACS, of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). The concept features several hundred Starbug robots that patrol the whole ~20’ GMT field. Each Starbug houses an image-slicing fibre bundle. MANIFEST provides enhanced functionality for the GMT spectrograph by increasing the field-of-view, multiplex, and spectral resolution.


After completing the feasibility study for MANIFEST in mid-2011, the AAO completed an R& D phase in late 2013. We are now conducting the MANIFEST Prototyping Design Study which aims to develop a Starbug-based positioning system for the TAIPAN instrument on the UKST.



The primary aim of PRAXIS is to determine the full astronomical potential of the technique of using fibre Bragg gratings (FBGs) for atmospheric OH suppression in astronomy. To achieve this, we are now building, in a close collaboration with the University of Sydney and the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam, a dedicated high-throughput low-noise J and H-band spectrograph and associated fibre feed and telescope fore-optics unit.

For atmospheric line filtering, the instrument will employ the GNOSIS FBG fibre bundle and a new multicore FBG bundle now being developed.



The TAIPAN instrument consists of a 150-fibre robot positioner operating over the 6 degree field of view of the UK Schmidt Telescope and a dedicated spectrograph. The positioner is based on the Starbug robot technology, which allows for field configurations within a few minutes. The spectrograph is a dual-arm design giving a simultaneous wavelength coverage from 370 to 870 nm at a spectral resolution of R> 2100.


The objectives for TAIPAN are to deliver a capability to Australian astronomers to carry out a comprehensive spectroscopic galaxy and stellar survey of the Southern Hemisphere using a refurbished UK Schmidt Telescope, and to act as a proof-of-concept for the Starbugs positioning technology, proposed for use on the Giant Magellan Telescope. TAIPAN is due for commissioning in early 2016.

Current AAO instruments


This is a new infrared camera for deployment with the AST3-3 wide-field survey telescope to Dome A on the Antarctic Plateau.  This project is designed to take advantage of the low Antarctic infrared sky thermal background (particularly within the K dark near infrared atmospheric window at 2.4μm) and the long Antarctic nights to provide high sensitivity temporal data from astronomical sources.

2dF data reduction

2dfdr is an automatic data reduction pipeline dedicated to reducing multi-fibre spectroscopy data, with current implementations for AAOmega (fed by the 2dF, KOALA-IFU, SAMI Multi-IFU or older SPIRAL front-ends), HERMES, 2dF (spectrograph), 6dF, and FMOS.

A graphical user interface is provided to control data reduction and allow inspection of the reduced spectra. It is being continually developed at the AAO in response to user feedback. You can reduce most of your data by simply pressing START AUTO REDUCTION in the Graphical User Interface.

AAOmega – an optical multi-object spectrograph for the AAT – 2006

AAOmega upgrade - new CCDs for the AAOmega instrument at the AAT – 2014

The AAOmega spectrograph was successfully commissioned in January 2006. The spectrograph is a dual-beam system, with Blue and Red arms that cover the full wavelength range, 370nm to 850nm, or 470nm to 950nm using a redder dichroic, at low resolution and are tuneable over these ranges at higher resolutions.

The AAOmega spectrograph can be fed by several front-ends, either the Two Degree Field ("2dF") multi-object system, KOALA integral field unit or SAMI multi-object integral field unit.

In 2014 AAOmega was upgraded to receive two new CCDs.

HERMES - moderate resolution optical spectrograph for the AAT – 2014

HERMES is a four channel fibre-fed spectrograph with high resolution and multi-object capability. It provides a nominal spectral resolution of R~28,000, and an option of higher resolution of R~50,000 using a slit-mask at the cost of approximately 50% light loss. HERMES provides simultaneous observations in the following fixed optical bands:

Blue: 471.5 - 490.0 nm
Green: 564.9 - 587.3 nm
Red: 647.8 - 673.7 nm
IR: 758.5 - 788.7 nm

The HERMES system is built upon the AAT’s existing Two-Degree Field (2dF) optical fibre positioner.  In 2018 the cryostates for HERMES were upgraded.

KOALA - 500 element fibre-IFU for the AAT – 2014

KOALA, the Kilofibre Optical AAT Lenslet Array, is a wide-field, high efficiency, integral-field unit designed for use with the bench mounted AAOmega spectrograph on the AAT. KOALA has 1000 hexagonal lenslets in a rectangular array. The field of view is selectable between either 15.3 x 28.3 arcsec (0.7" sampling) or 27.4 x 50.6 arcsec (1.25" sampling). To achieve this, KOALA uses a telecentric double lenslet array fed by interchangeable fore-optics. The IFU is mounted at the f/8 Cassegrain focus and feeds AAOmega via a 31m fibre run.

KOALA benefits from all of the flexibility of the reconfigurable AAOmega spectrograph. The double beam spectrograph provides user selectable wavelength coverage and resolution using a series of movable, interchangeable gratings. A set of low, medium, and high resolution gratings provide R ~ 1,000, R ~ 5,000 or R ~ 10,000 across the wavelength range 330 nm to 900 nm. Each arm can be independently configured. The two arms are separated by a dichroic mirror with either a 570nm or 670nm cut. Full spectral coverage is possible in a single exposure with the low-resolution gratings.

The Automated Patrol Telescope (APT) - 2008

This is a wide-field CCD imaging telescope, which is operated by the University of New South Wales at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia. The optical design employed resembles that of a Schmidt camera, but uses a 3-element lens to achieve a wide, corrected field of view. Telescope motion and operation of the CCD have been placed under computer control, allowing automated observations for long-term survey and monitoring projects. The APT has 0.5m aperture f/1 optics which produce a 5 degree flat field, of which a 2X3 degree field is utilised by the CCD currently installed. Imaging can be done either unfiltered or through B, V R and I broad-band filters.

SPIRAL - upgrade to SPIRAL-B for use with AAOmega at the AAT – 2006

SPIRAL is an integral field unit which feeds a dedicated spectrograph. The IFU has a field of view of 22.4 x 11.2 arc seconds squared with 0.7 arc second spatial sampling. There are 512 spatial sampling elements. The spectrograph is situated on the dome floor and is fed by 18m length of optical fibre.

SPIRAL operates from 4800-10000Å at a variety of wavelength resolutions. It is not recommended for use below 4800Å due to aberrations in the spectrograph optics.

SPIRAL was an "expert user" instrument and required full support from AAO staff. There are also operational limitations on its use, e.g., no grating changes during the night. Applicants granted more than one night of observing time by PATT or ATAC will be encouraged to go to the telescope for their run, to provide early feedback on the data quality, and gain experience in the use of the instrument.

OzPoz - fibre positioning robot for the VLT – 2003

The OzPoz fibre positioner is based on the successful concept developed for 2dF at AAO: while one plate is observing, the other one is positioning the fibres for the subsequent observations. The dead time between two observations is therefore limited to less than 15 minutes, guaranteeing a very good night duty cycle. OzPoz has the capability to host up to 560 fibre per plate.

IRIS2 - near-infrared slit-mask spectrograph and imager for the AAT – 2002

The IRIS2 infrared imager and spectrograph was built in-house by the AAO, and commissioned between October 2001 and July 2002. It provides the AAO with an infrared facility for

  • Wide field imaging (~8'x8') with a pixel scale of 0.4486"/pixel
  • Moderate resolution (R=2400) long-slit spectroscopy, and
  • Moderate resolution (R=2400) multi-object spectroscopy (from 2016B onwards, the MOS mode will no longer be available)

2dF - 1997

The “Two-degree Field” (2dF) project at the AAO gives the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) a field of view two degrees in diameter at the prime focus, equipped with 400 optical fibres for multi-object spectroscopy. The basic components of 2dF are the corrector lens optics, the robot which positions the fibres and a pair of spectrographs. All these are mounted on a ‘top end ring’ so that the whole assembly can be easily put on and off the telescope.

Current AAO instrument build and design studies

AESOP2400-spine fibre positioner for the 4MOST instrument for VISTA2020
AST3-NIRWide-field infrared camera for the AST3 telescope at Dome A2020
GHOSTFibre fed high-resolution spectrograph for Gemini2019
Hector 1Multi-IFU positioning system and spectrograph for the AAT2019
MANIFEST PCDPre-Concept design study for MANIFEST for GMT2019
TAIPAN upgradeUpgrade of TAIPAN to 300 Starbugs2019
MAVISProposal for an MCAO system and instrument for the VLT2018
NBSDesign Study for a Nasmyth Beam Switcher for Subaru2018
Flat-field sourceFlat-field source for the AAT2018
Veloce interfacesFibre cable and interfaces for the Veloce spectrograph at the AAT2018
PLATO Antarctic power generation and communications module2018
HERMES upgradeUpgrade of cryostats for HERMES at the AAT2018
2dF fibre upgradeUpgrade of the 2dF and HERMES fibre cable at the AAT2018
PRAXISSpectrograph for OH suppression for the AAT2018
TAIPAN positioner150-fibre Starbug positioner for the UKST2018
2dFDR upgradeUpgrades to the 2dFDR data reduction system2018
HuntsmanArray of telephoto lenses on common mount at SSO 2018

Completed AAO instrumentation and telescope facility build projects

TAIPAN spectrograph Low resolution spectrograph for TAIPAN at the UKST2017
Flat-field screenFlat-field screen for the AAT2017
UKST upgradeUKST telescope and dome control upgrade2016
CACTITwo degree imager for the AAT2015
HERMESModerate resolution optical spectrograph for the AAT 2014
AAOmega upgradeNew CCDs for the AAOmega instrument at the AAT 2014
KOALA1000-element fibre-IFU for the AAT 2014
SAMIMulti-IFU hexabundle fibre feed for the AAT 2013
DragonflyPhotonic interferometer for the AAT2012
CYCLOPS2Fibre image-slicer for UCLES at the AAT 2012
GNOSISOH suppression fibre-feed for IRIS2 at the AAT 2012
CURECassegrain calibration and guide unit at the AAT 2012
SAMI prototypeMulti-IFU hexabundle fibre feed for the AAT 2011
CYCLOPSFibre image-slicer for UCLES at the AAT 2010
6dF upgradeThird field plate added to 6dF at the UKST2009
APT cameraWide-field optical camera for the APT 2008
AAT-TCSTelescope Control System upgrade for the AAT 2008
LN2 AutofillerLN2 cryostat autofiller system for the AAT2007
FMOS/EchidnaFibre positioning robot for Subaru 2007
UCLES upgradeControl system upgrade for UCLES for the AAT 2007
SPIRALUpgrade to SPIRAL-B for use with AAOmega at the AAT 2006
AAOmegaOptical multi-object spectrograph for the AAT 2006
DomeAirDome air-conditioning system for the AAT2005
6dF upgradeVPH gratings added to the 6dF spectrograph2002
AAO2 controllerDetector controller for AAT instruments 2004
OzPozFibre positioning robot for the VLT 2003
DAZLENear-infrared narrow-band imager for the VLT  2003
Helium SystemHelium reticulation system for the AAT2002
IRIS2Near-infrared slit-mask spectrograph and imager for the AAT 2002
6dF150-fibre positioning robot for the UKST 2001
PFUInstrument mount and shutter/filter for WFI  at the AAT2001
WFIWide field optical imager for prime focus at the AAT 2001
MAPPIT-2High resolution interferometer for the AAT 2000
Taurus polarimeterImaging polarimetry mode for Taurus for the AAT2000
SOAR-IFUPrototype fibre-IFU for the SOAR telescope 2000
SPIRAL-BFibre-IFU and spectrograph for the AAT2000
UKS-TCSTelescope control system upgrade for the UKST 2000
A&GCCD camera and new system for acquisition and guiding at the AAT2000
UCLES upgradeIodine absorption cell addition to UCLES at the AAT1998
LDSS++Upgrade to LDSS for the AAT 1998
MAPPITRedundant masking interferometer for the AAT1997
SPIRAL-AFibre IFU and spectrograph for the AAT 1997
2dF spectrographFibre-fed optical spectrographs for the 2dF system at the AAT 1996
CCDCSCCD Charge Shuffling for the AAT 1997
UNSWIRFNarrow band infrared tuneable filter for IRIS at the AAT1996
2dFDRData reduction package for MOS spectrographs1996
TTFTaurus tuneable filter for Taurus II at the AAT1996
2dF positioner400-fibre robotic positioner for the AAT 1995
IRPInfrared imager for the SPIREX telescope at the South Pole 1994
2dF corrector2 degree wide field corrector and ADC for the AAT 1993
UHRFUltra-high resolution optical spectrograph for the AAT 1993
IRIS polarimeterNIR polarimetry module for the IRIS instrument at the AAT1993
FLAIR-II92-fibre positioner and spectrograph for the UKST 1992
SequencerInstrument sequencer system for the AAT 1992
IRISNear-infrared spectrograph and imager for the AAT 1991
RGOS polarimeterOptical polarimetry upgrade to RGOS for the AAT1990
OBSERVERInstrument and CCD control system for the AAT1990
XMEMCCD data buffer system for the AAT 1990
LBL shutter/filterFilter and shutter exchanger for LBL focal reducer at the AAT1989
LEMLarge External Memory system for CCDs at the AAT1989
PolarimeterHatfield style polarimeter for the AAT1988
IPCS upgradeHigh-speed acquisition mode for IPCS at the AAT1988
Coude ADCAtmospheric Dispersion Corrector the Coude focus at the AAT1988
AAO SISpeckle Interferometer at the AAT1988
UCLES IPCSDuplicate IPCS detector head and control rack for UCLES1988
UCLESHigh resolution optical Echelle spectrograph for the AAT 1988
FLAIR-PANACHE35-fibre positioning system and spectrograph for the UKST1988
ICSIIC Speckle interfometer for the AAT1987
PGSPeter Gillingham “wooden” spectrograph for the AAT1987
Autofib70-fibre positioner for the RGOS at the AAT 1987
FOCAP upgradeUpgrade of FOCAP to 64 fibres at the AAT1986
Taurus IIFabry-Perot tuneable filter for the AAT 1986
LDSSLow dispersion spectrograph for the AAT 1986
FIGSFabry-Perot Infrared Grating Spectrometer at the AAT1985
FORSFaint Object Red Spectrograph for the AAT 1983
FOCAP upgradeUpgrade to FOCAP with 50 fibres at the AAT1983
IRPS polarimeterNear-infrared polarimetry module for IRPS at the AAT1983
RGOS polarimeterPockels cell spectropolarimeter for RGOS at the AAT1982
CAMACControl, data acquisition, and analysis system for the AAT1982
FOCAP25-fibre plug-plate feed for the RGOS at the AAT1981
Prime focus cameraCCD for prime focus at the AAT1981
CHOPSECChopping secondary system for the AAT 1981
TaurusFabry-Perot tuneable filter for the AAT 1980
Dome upgradeUpgrade to the dome ventilation system for the AAT1980
Auxiliary cameraAuxiliary focus photometer for the AAT1980
IPCS upgradeExternal memory addition to IPCS for the AAT1979
IRPSInfrared Photometer Spectrometer for the AAT 1978
Digital A&GImage processor for the acquisition system at the AAT1977
IPCSBoksenberg UCL Image Photon Counting System for the AAT1976
RGOS Long-slit intermediate dispersion optical spectrograph for the AAT1976
QMCMillimeter wave instrument at Coude for the AAT1976
BCSBoller & Chivens f/15 spectrograph for the AAT1975
AAT Photometer1- and 2-channel photometers for the AAT1975
Wamplertron (IDS)Image Dissector Scanner for the AAT 1975

Completed AAO instrument design studies, concepts and proposals

AST3-NIR PDSPreliminary Design Study for the AST3-NIR opto-mechanics for AST32017
Veloce PDSPreliminary Design Study for the Veloce fibre system and AAT interface 2017
DAGProposal for an instrument suite for the DAG telescope2017
SphinxConceptual Design Study for a spine-based positioner for MSE 2017
4MOST CDSConceptual Design Study for the 4MOST instrument for VISTA2016
GHOST CrDSCritical Design Study for GHOST for Gemini2015
ULTIMATE IFUConcept and Prototyping Plan for ULTIMATE multi-IFU on Subaru2015
MS-DESIConceptual Design Study for a spine-based positioner for the Mayall 2014
GHOST PDRPreliminary Design Study for GHOST for Gemini2014
4MOST PDSPreliminary Design Study for the 4MOST instrument for VISTA2013
DESpecConceptual Design Study for a spine-based positioner for the Blanco 2012
GMT SDOCContributions to the software operations concept for GMT 2012
MANIFEST R&DResearch and Development Study for MANIFEST2012
GHOST CDSConceptual Design Study for GHOST for Gemini2012
MANIFEST FSFeasibility Study for the MANIFEST positioner for GMT2011
GHOST proposalProposal for a high-resolution optical spectrograph for Gemini2011
NG1dFConcept for a slit-mask spectrograph for the AAT 2010
FireballProposal for a multi-IFU system for the VLT 2010
HERMES FDSFinal Design Study for the HERMES spectrograph for the AAT2010
HERMES CRSConfiguration Review Study for the HERMES spectrograph for the AAT2009
HERMES CDSConceptual Design Study for the HERMES spectrograph for the AAT2008
WFMOS-AConceptual Design Study for a spine-based positioner for the AAT 2008
PILOTConceptual Design Study for a 2.5 metre Antarctic telescope for Dome C 2008
LDSConceptual Design Study for a low-dispersion spectrograph for Gemini 2008
WFMOS CDSConceptual Design Study for a spine based positioner for Gemini 2007
AAOmicronConcept for a near infrared multi-object spectrograph for the AAT 2007
HESPConceptual Design Study for a high resolution spectrograph for the HCT 2007
WFMOS-KFeasibility Study for a positioner for the SPM unit telescope 2006
SALT-HRSDesign Study for a high resolution spectrograph for SALT 2006
SONGOptical design analysis for the SONG stellar spectrograph 2006
FMOS-DRProposal for data reduction software for FMOS 2005
WFMOS FSFeasibility Study for a spine based positioner for Gemini 2005
UkidnaConcept for a spine based positioner for the UKST 2004
FASTCAMConcept for a near-infrared lucky imaging camera 2004
IRTFProposal for an infrared tuneable filter instrument 2004
HISPECProposal for an optical/NIR high resolution spectrometer for ELT 2003
GRB catcherProposal for a fast-response multipurpose instrument for ELT 2003
PN.SProposal for a Planetary Nebula Spectrograph for the NTT 2003
BTODSSProposal for an optics diagnostic sensor system for Gemini 2003
MOMFOSConceptual design study for a spine-based positioner for the GSMT 2003
WiFeSTrade Study for the WiFes spectrograph for the ANU 2.3 m telescope 2003
FMOS-EchidnaFinal Design Study for the FMOS-Echidna instrument on Subaru2003
CIRPASS feedDesign Study for a fibre link between OzPoz and CIRPASS  for the VLT 2002
ANDESProposal for an infrared spectrograph for the VLT 2001
KOSMOSConcept for a multi-object spectrograph for the Kiso Telescope 2001
FMOS-EchidnaConceptual Design Study for the FMOS-Echidna instrument on Subaru2001
OSIRISConcept for an optical imager/spectrograph for the GCT Telescope 2000
GIRMOSConceptual Design Study for a multi-IFU spectrograph for Gemini 2000
IRIS2-gConceptual Design Study for a near-infrared spectrograph for Gemini 2000
ATLASConceptual Design Study for an spectrograph for the AAT 1999
OzPos FDSFinal Design Study for the OzPos positioner for the VLT1999
OzPos PDSPreliminary Design Study for the OzPos positioner for the VLT1998
SOAR IFUConcept for a spectrograph and IFU for SOAR 1998
AustralisConcept for a fibre positioner and spectrograph for the VLT 1998
CAFConcept for a Coude Auxiliary Feed for the AAT1991
2dFProposal for the 2dF system for the AAT1989

Technology development activities

NullingAdaptive nulling demonstration at AAT2017
Ring resonator on-skyRing resonator tests at the AAT2017
WFS at AATDistributed wavefront sensing demonstration at the AAT2017
AO at AATAdaptive optics testbed closed loop operation at AAT 
IPS on skyIntegrated Photonics  
IPS on telescopeIntegrated Photonic Spectrograph demonstration at AAT 
Starbug Starbug demonstration on telescope at the UKST 
F-ADCFluid atmospheric dispersion compensation at the AAT 
 OH suppression
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