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SEW-Eurodrive helps to reach the stars

20.08.21

The radio telescope of the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SAO RAS) or RATAN-600 (an acronym for the "Academy of Sciences Radio Telescope – 600") is the largest radio telescope in the world with a variable-profile ring antenna 600 m in diameter. It means that the focus and the form of the main mirror can be changed during observations.

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This antenna was created to achieve large geometric area and high angular resolution. It is located near the village of Zelenchukskaya in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia at the altitude of 970 mеters.

Construction of the giant began in 1968. The first light was seen in 1974 and since then its work has never stopped. The telescope has a status of an open access instrument, which allows scientists from different countries to conduct research on astronomical objects in the entire range of distances in the Metagalaxy. Observation time is provided free of charge on a competitive basis only by the Russian Telescope Time Allocation Committee. The annual telescope loading is about 8,000 hours. In average 50-60% out of it is allocated to external users both Russian and international ones. So far the telescope has been in high demand – the number of applications for observation time is on average three times greater than its capacity, up to 100 observations per day are carried out in each of the four sectors of the telescope.

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Thousands new radio sources have been studied by the RATAN-600, including the most distant known to date radio galaxy J0311+0507. Almost all observation time on the telescope is allocated to on astrophysical tasks solution, including solar flare activity research, astrophysical sources of ultra-high energy neutrinos (200 trillion electron volts or more) study, distant quasars as early supermassive black holes of the Universe research, and Galactic X-ray binaries with relativistic jets (microquasars) research. Due to its geometric features, the RATAN is used as four independent antennas and several observation programs can be carried out simultaneously.

The telescope consists of Circular and Flat reflectors, as well as five movable secondary mirrors with observation facilities on railway platforms. The diameter of the Circular reflector is 576 meters, the height is 11 meters and consists of 895 moving elements. The Flat reflector is constructed with 130 moving elements 8.5 meters tall and 400 meters total long. Due to its design the telescope has exceptional angular resolution and outstanding sensitivity which allow studying faint and extremely distant objects in the Universe. The main advantage of the telescope is its ability to obtain an instantaneous radio spectrum of a space object in a wide frequency range.

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All the components of the telescope have to perform high operating performance and high operational reliability. That is why the engineers at SAO RAS have been opting for the equipment from SEW-EURODRIVE for their projects for almost 20 years. The drive systems of the secondary mirrors (the drive of the main movement, the drive of the carriage, the leveling system of the irradiators) are equipped with drive technology from SEW and have been operating without failures for more than 16 years.

Currently, the drive unit of the Flat reflector (130 synchronously moving elements) is being modernized with SEW-EURODRIVE gearmotors in order to increase the accuracy and the speed of positioning of the antennas. The existing gearmotors are going to be replaced with new helical-bevel gearmotors KA67 series with special flanges and specialized output shafts fitted to existing equipment dimensions.

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The drive equipment control system is built on the Movitrac frequency innverter, ensuring accuracy and reliability of the system. As a result of the modernization, it will be possible to increase the positioning speed of the Flat reflector by 2 times, to increase the system efficiency up to 98%, the angular backlash of the output shaft will decrease from ± 3.0 angular degrees to ± 0.5 angular degrees, the service interval of the geared motors will increase from 200 hours to 20,000 hours. The new control system based on the SEW Movitrac frequency inverter will make it possible to implement such positioning multi-speed modes as cruising, adjusting and stepping modes, soft start and stop.

The drive equipment on the telescope is being updated within the framework of the national project “Science and Universities”. It is expected to increase the efficiency of scientific research with the telescope by improving the technical and operational characteristics.