Telescopic precision engineering

In a shrinking UK market, a Liverpool engineering company has transformed itself from a local company into one capable of winning international contracts – a direct result of its symbiotic relationship with LJMU astrophysicists.

The Liverpool Telescope (LT) is the world’s largest fully robotic telescope. Sited on La Palma, Spain, it produces high quality astronomical data for science research programmes around the world. The LT was built by Telescope Technologies Ltd. a subsidiary company set-up by LJMU; it is owned by the University and operated by the Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI) at LJMU.

Building the LT required the manufacture of bespoke precision instruments. Since 2001, researchers from ARI have worked closely with a local engineering company, SENAR Precision Engineering (Birkenhead). SENAR was commissioned to build some of the original mechanical components required for the LT. With support from ARI, SENAR have designed and developed new pieces of technical equipment for the LT, such as components of new infra-red and optical cameras, developing the skills and expertise of the company as well as developing new techniques, developing instruments out of difficult to use materials.

In 2011, ARI researchers helped SENAR to design and manufacture a large diameter (1.2 metre) high precision bearing support ring as part of the Robonet programme to improve the telescope image quality and allow LT to seek out Exoplanets (planets located outside of our solar system). This project earned the company £48k in Research and Development tax credits and contributed to the success of the company in securing an additional £20k grant from the council to purchase a new piece of milling machinery.

The collaborative partnership with ARI researchers has contributed to an increased company turnover from £980k in 2008 to £2.6 million by 2013 and the creation of an additional 15 jobs, taking the total number of employees to 33.

SENAR has also benefitted from an enhanced international reputation due to their work on the LT, allowing them to expand into different areas of astronomy, particle physics and other opto-mechanical systems. As a result, SENAR has been awarded contracts with other international observatories (e.g. the William Herschel Telescope in La Palma) and European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). SENAR is also working towards collaborations with the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) and European Southern Observatory, in Chile.

Find out more about the research taking place within the Astrophysics Research Institute.

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