Dutch industrial group VDL joins Atacama ‘biggest eye on the sky’ project

Artist's impression: ESO
Artist’s impression: ESO

VDL ETG Projects, part of the diversified industrial VDL Groep, has been awarded a contract to build the support structure for the main mirror of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in northern Chile, the Eindhoven-based company said in a statement  late Thursday.

The European Southern Observatory will build the world’s largest telescope in the Atacama desert at an elevation of over three kilometres. The support structure consists of 798 individual support structures for mirror segments, which together form the telescope’s main mirror which has a diameter of over 39 metres. The project will be completed in 2024.

The order is worth several tens of millions of euros, the company said. VDL comprises 94 individual companies and is owned by the Van der Leegte family.

ESO Director General Xavier Barcons and VDL Groep President and CEO Willem van der Leegte signed the contract for the order on Thursday at the headquarters of the ESO in Garching, near Munich. Van der Leegte said this marked the first time an astronomy-related contract of this size has gone to a Dutch party.

The ELT is the same size as a football stadium. The ‘eye’ of the telescope is nearly as large as half a football field and will capture more light than all other existing large, professional optical telescopes combined. The ELT will enable new scientific discoveries related to planets, the composition of nearby galaxies and the deep universe.

The design was created in collaboration with the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), with support from the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA). The main mirror with adaptive control system will form the largest-ever telescope for visible-light observations.

With 15 member states, the ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far.

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