Telescope scheduling

Project Code: 10454989

Faculty: Faculty of Engineering

Department: Electrical & Computer Engineering

Main Supervisor: Dr Oliver Sinnen

Application open date: 26 Sep 2019

Application deadline: 31 Dec 2022

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International


Telescopes observe celestial objects(or sources) in the sky. The telescopes are usually movable and can point at different positions in the sky. Very large scientific telescopes in astronomical observatories are highly specialised, very expensive and scarce. Hence, they must be used as efficiently as possible, so that as many observations can be made as possible during any given time frame.

In a typical operation mode, a telescope will be configured to observe a given list of sources, which correspond to positions in the sky. It remains pointed at a source of the list for a certain observation period, e.g. 10 minutes, after which the telescope is rotated and tilted to point to the next object on the list. This so called slewing can take up to several minutes for very large telescopes. During the time of this movement, the telescope is not gathering data. To optimise the use of the telescope, it is desirable to order the sources in such a way that the slewing time is minimsied. Given the rotation of the Earth, almost all sources are only visible during certain time periods, which is a constraint that needs to be taken into consideration.

There are further aspects that can make this ordering or scheduling of observations more difficult. For example, the necessary observation period can change depending on the position in the sky. Or the fact that certain inclination and rotation angles of the telescope need to be avoided.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant

The following knowelge and skills will be very helpful in this project:

  • algorithm design and analysis
  • optimisation
  • basic programming
  • basic astronmy

The objectives of this research project are to discover and design novel optimisation algorithms for the scheduling of telescope observations. This will be based on existing models, but at the same time new models will be considered, especially in the context of multi-criteria optimisation.

Other information

This project will be conducted in collaboration with A/Prof Willem van Straten, AUT.

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