Abstract Details

Title: History of Robotic and Remotely Operated Telescopes

Authors: Russell Genet

Institute/Affiliation: California Polytechnic State University

Abstract Type: talk

Abstract Information:

While automated instrument sequencers were employed on solar eclipse expeditions in the late 1800s, it wasn�t until the 1960s that Art Code and associates at Wisconsin used a PDP minicomputer to automate an 8-inch photometric telescope. Although this pioneering project experienced frequent equipment failures and was shut down after a couple of years, it paved the way for the first space telescopes.

Reliable microcomputers initiated the modern era of robotic telescopes. Louis Boyd and I applied single board microcomputers with 64K of RAM and floppy disk drives to telescope automation at the Fairborn Observatory, achieving reliable, fully robotic operation in 1983 that has continued uninterrupted for 28 years. In 1985 the Smithsonian Institution provided us with a suburb operating location on Mt. Hopkins in southern Arizona, while the National Science Foundation funded additional telescopes. Remote access to our multiple robotic telescopes at the Fairborn Observatory began in the late 1980s. The Fairborn Observatory, with its 14 fully robotic telescopes and staff of two (one full and one part time) illustrates the potential for low operating and maintenance costs.

As the information capacity of the Internet has expanded, observational modes beyond simple differential photometry opened up, bringing us to the current era of real-time remote access to remote observatories and global observatory networks. Although initially confined to smaller telescopes, robotic operation and remote access are spreading to larger telescopes as telescopes from afar becomes the normal mode of operation.