Maintenance work on the Lovell Telescope

Visitors to Jodrell Bank will notice that the Lovell Telescope is currently out of action for maintenance. Two significant tasks are being undertaken: painting and steelwork repairs at the top of one of the supporting towers, and replacement of the original 1957 surface.

The Lovell Telescope in August 2018
The Lovell Telescope in August 2018, parked pointing towards the zenith whilst maintenance work is undertaken.

The 76-metre diameter Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank was a pioneering development in the science of radio astronomy. It was the largest telescope in the world at the time of its completion in 1957 and today it is still the third largest fully-steerable telescope. It operates as a cutting-edge research instrument but is also Grade I listed by Historic England as a building of exceptional interest.

In order to remain in good operational order, the telescope must be continuously maintained and any faults rectified. Large jobs are conducted during the summer, when days are longer and the weather usually better.

In the first major upgrade to the telescope in 1970/71, a new reflecting surface with a shallower curve was added above the original, together with a large new wheel girder system to help support the weight of the bowl. In the early 2000’s, this additional surface was itself replaced with a new galvanised steel surface with a more accurate paraboloidal shape significantly improving the efficiency of the telescope.

Throughout these upgrades, the original 1957 surface was left in place as an integral part of the structure providing significant protection from wind and rain to the reverse of the reflecting bowl. It is this surface which is visible from below when the telescope is parked pointing towards the zenith, as it is at the moment.

Despite continual care, the condition of this surface has now deteriorated to the extent that it needs replacement. The work required is significant and is planned to take place over two consecutive summers. It is being conducted by Taziker Industrial who have extensive experience of refurbishment of large steelwork structures, including the Iron Bridge in Shropshire, the Tay Rail Bridge and the Royal Albert Bridge over the River Tamar.

Sections of the original surface will be carefully kept for use in our First Light project celebrating the history of the Observatory. At the heart of First Light will be a new indoor exhibition featuring these carefully preserved sections of the surface.

Continual maintenance and major tasks like those currently underway are a key part of ensuring the telescope will continue to make fundamental contributions to radio astronomy research over the coming decades.

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