Multi-million dollar astronomy deal opens door for Australian optical engineers

Australia’s manufacturing sector is set to benefit from a government partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which aims to keep Australian astronomers at the forefront of the field.

Originally announced in the 2017-18 budget, $129 million has been pledged to a 10‑year partnership with the ESO, which includes a consortium comprising 15 member states.

The partnership, which will start next year, will give astronomers access to the tools and collaboration opportunities including the 8m telescopes at ESO’s La Silla and Paranal Observatories in the Atacama Mountains of Chile, among the world’s best sites for optical astronomy.

The agreement will also create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to tender for contracts ranging from heavy engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering to the design and development of precision optics, electronics, sensors, and complex instrumentation.

“Australia has a long and rich history of internationally acclaimed astronomical research,” said Professor Tim de Zeeuw, ESO’s director general.

“The already very active and successful astronomical community will undoubtedly thrive with long-term access to ESO’s cutting-edge facilities.”

Australia’s expertise in astronomical technology, including advanced adaptive optics and fibre-optics, is “ideally matched with ESO’s instrumentation programme”, Prof Zeeuw added.

“In turn, Australia will gain access to industrial, instrumentation and scientific opportunities at ESO’s La Silla Paranal Observatory.”