Java sees stars

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A Sydney company has won a deal to design the world's fastest sky-mapping telescope to complete the first digital map of the southern sky, replacing the Mt Stromlo telescope destroyed by ACT bushfires six months ago.

ASX-listed Electro Optic Systems (EOS) and the Australian National University (ANU) have agreed EOS will design a $10 million, 1.8 metre 'Skymapper' telescope. It will be built by EOS and Mt Stromlo observatory and installed at the ANU's Siding Spring observatory near Coonabarabran in the ACT.

Dr Ben Greene, CEO of EOS, said the project--including associated Java-based software and electronic subsystems also designed by EOS--would probably take about two years.

'It's basically just a big camera...[with] from an IT point of view, a 21st century advanced industrial control system...for optical technologies, domes, weather systems, laser systems and instrumentation,' he said.

Greene said that the as-yet-unnamed Java-based applications involved would be modular extensions of existing EOS software incorporating some '200 man-years' of telescope and observatory software development.

EOS-based IT applications would not only control the movements of the telescope itself, but also enable the transmission and interpretation of results to scientists around the world via the Internet or by PSDN over a mobile phone, he said.

'We have a lot of Java-based systems, especially for robotics. Nobody can afford to pay observers anymore--these days telescopes run robotically and link over the Internet to the scientist's home so he or she can go back to writing his or her paper,' he said. 'The system automatically posts the results and sends emails around the world and even writes reports.'

Greene said the Skymapper will be the fastest sky-mapping telescope in the world, able to 'see' about 10 square degrees of the sky at a time compared with an industry average of two to three square degrees. Its view of the sky will be about 10 times as stable, varying by just a few millimetres over 1000 kilometres, as the current generation of telescopes.

The first digital map of the southern sky -- part of a global sky-mapping project -- was scheduled for completion in about four years, he said.

Once up and running, EOS' new telescope should be able to complete the project in just two years, bringing the sky map project in on time despite the loss of Mt Stromlo, he said. 'Given that it's half a year since the fire, we'll have two years left to do the job,' Greene said.

He said the advanced and complex system developed by EOS could conceivably be scaled to fit industrial and commercial applications in, for example, large automotive manufacturing plants. Ford or Toyota could be using a similar system in completely automated car factories in less than five years, he said. 'The communication protocols are very generic [and] that's really been facilitated a lot since Java came along. At a most simplistic level, if you wanted it to control about 50 or 60 things in a home, it could certainly do that,' Greene said. 'So you can imagine the economies coming into the industry and that's great because it's always hard to get money out of science.'

He said EOS was the world's largest manufacturer of telescopes up to three or four metres in size, making four or five telescopes a year mostly replacing superseded telescope systems around the world. Larger telescopes were usually done on an individual basis by organisations formed to build that one telescope only. 'The largest single telescope in the world is 10 metres in size,' Greene said.

The company, which bases 75 percent of its 90 staff in Australia, also develops and makes weapons systems, he said.


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