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Jodrell Bank radio telescope
Jodrell Bank, near Goostry, Cheshire, UK
Jodrell Bank radio telescope
associated engineer
Henry Charles Husband
Husband & Co
date  1952 - 1957, 1968 - 1971, 2001 - 2002
era  Modern  |  category  Scientific Installation  |  reference  SJ794711
ICE reference number  HEW 471
photo  courtesy PHEW, ICE
Manchester University's research station and observatory at Jodrell Bank was established in order to study radio signals from outer space. The facility is dominated by a huge radio telescope, originally the largest in the world. Now known as the Lovell Telescope, this radio telescope is still in use. Refurbishment in 2001 increased its power.
Jodrell Bank is now part of the University of Manchester’s School of Physics & Astronomy. Radar pioneer and astronomer Professor Bernard Lovell (1913-2012, knighted 1961) established the facility in 1946. The altitude-azimuth radio telescope, originally named Mark I, was designed to meet Lovell's requirements and superseded a 66.4m diameter transit telescope built in 1947.
The 76.2m diameter rotatable paraboloid bowl of the Mark I telescope is made of 7,100 welded mild steel sheets 2mm thick, supported by a structural steel space frame. The frame sits on trunnion bearings formerly used for the 380mm gun turrets of two Royal Navy ships (Revenge and Royal Sovereign).
Two steel towers support the bowl assembly at an elevation of 50.3m, and are braced to form a yoke under the bowl. The towers rest on bogies running along two concentric tracks with an overall diameter of 107.6m.
The telescope can be rotated in any direction — the reflector has an area of 4,560 sq m and can be completely inverted. Radio signals from space are reflected into the focus of the bowl, where aerials are mounted on a steel mast 19m high.
The telescope was designed for wind loading at every stage of construction as well as at completion. It is moved by two independent and very sensitive Ward-Leonard rotary converters, operated from a control room with a 7.6m x 3.4m plate glass window giving a full view of the telescope.
Construction took place during 1952-6, with 30 different firms employed, and the telescope was in use by August 1957. The cost was £559,670 excluding site acquisition, radio receiving/transmitting equipment and fees. Henry Charles Husband (1908-83, knighted 1975) took charge of the overall design.
The Jodrell Bank telescope successfully tracked the Russian Sputnik 1 satellite (and the R7 rocket that had put it into orbit) from its launch on 4th October 1957 and during its three months in space.
From 1958, the telescope provided tracking for NASA's attempts to launch American satellites and Moon rockets. In 1963, Lovell was the first Westerner to visit the Russian deep-space tracking facility in the Crimea.
In 1968-71, a total of 336 new reflector panels mounted on a frame were installed directly above the existing reflector surface. The new assembly added 960 tonnes to the weight of the telescope. Two new semicircular wheel girders under the bowl transfer one third of the load from the trunnion bearings to a new rail track set centrally between the two existing tracks. The whole structure weighs nearly 3,250 tonnes, with the moving parts totalling around 2,000 tonnes.
Diagonal bracing was added after storms in January 1976. However, by the early 1980s, corrosion and rust were evident on the reflector plates and the angle frame, both made of ungalvanised mild steel.
In 1987, after 30 years of operation, the structure was renamed the Lovell Telescope. The following year it was awarded Grade I listed status. Patch repairs in 1991 did not solve the rust problem. Corrosion compromised both the integrity of the structure and the accuracy of the telescope.
In 2001, engineers began replacing the existing reflector surface with 4,032 galvanised carbon steel plates. All the work was done by workers suspended from ropes inside the steep-sided bowl. The £2m contract was completed in 2002, increasing the telescope's power of resolution about four fold. It is now the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world — the two larger ones are located in the USA and Germany.
The Lovell Telescope is not the only steerable radio telescope at Jodrell Bank. The 25m diameter Mark II was completed in 1964 on the site of the demolished transit telescope. It was the first telescope in the world to be computer controlled. In 1987, reflector panels of aluminium were mounted on the original steel bowl.
Radio has a wavelength 100,000 times longer than visible light, so in theory a radio telescope should be 100,000 larger than an optical telescope to achieve the same resolution. However, astronomers can link distant radio telescopes electronically into a large array, giving the same results.
Seven British telescopes, including the Lovell Telescope and the Mark II, form Multi-Element-Radio-Linked-Interferometer-Network (MERLIN) — a system with an equivalent diameter of 217km. Now linked by a fibre-optic network, e-MERLIN’s data is interpreted at Jodrell Bank, and is comparable with data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope — a 2.4m diameter reflecting telescope, launched in 1990.
In 2011 a Discovery Centre designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios was constructed to provide visitor amenities for the site. In 2012, Jodrell Bank became the headquarters for analysing data from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) — the world’s largest radio telescope (construction 2016-24).
Specialist contractor (2001-2): AEA Technology
Telescope and transmitter repair (2001-2): Shal Engineers
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH W&W

Jodrell Bank radio telescope