DECam team celebrates completion of project

Brenna Flaugher, project manager for the Dark Energy Camera, wrote this week’s column.

Brenna Flaugher

The construction, delivery and testing of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, led by Fermilab to study dark energy, is complete, on budget and on schedule. This is a big success and testament to the dedication and skills of the Fermilab staff and the collaborating institutions.

Over the past year we delivered all the pieces of the camera to our collaborators at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile and retested the systems after their arrival. The observatory is now in charge of the installation of the Dark Energy Camera on the telescope, which will be complete soon.

Under the leadership of Fermilab’s Josh Frieman, the Dark Energy Survey collaboration is now moving toward operations. Planning for a first light celebration is in progress, with the likely date in early November.

The idea to build one of the largest digital cameras in the world at Fermilab began eight years ago. Under the direction of former Fermilab Director John Peoples, a collaboration was formed in 2004 for the design, construction and testing of the Dark Energy Camera. The experienced staff and the superb infrastructure of PPD’s Silicon Detector Facility, developed for the construction of the silicon detectors for CDF, DZero and CMS, provided a strong base for building the camera. The Experimental Astrophysics Group in the Computing Division had gained extensive experience with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The Experimental Astrophysics Group and members of the Astrophysics Theory Group provided scientific leadership. Together, we successfully navigated the extensive review process that led us from concept to completion.

The collaboration and project management would like to thank the many groups at Fermilab who contributed to our success. PPD’s Electrical Engineering Department faced particular challenges with the very-low-noise readout requirements. PPD’s Mechanical Department developed a liquid-nitrogen cooling system that required innovative ideas to solve a number of challenges, and in Lab A the team constructed a full-sized replica of the top of the Blanco telescope to test the camera installation and operation. The skilled, technical support staff at PPD’s Technical Centers produced more top-quality CCD assemblies from the sensors delivered by Berkeley Lab than we ever could have hoped for and provided the detailed measurements and alignment of the large support structures. Finally, PPD’s budget office and project management support were essential to keep track of our progress and navigate through 14 comprehensive project reviews. Support from the Computing Division contributed to the development of the online data acquisition and controls systems and the Business Services Section provided guidance on many national and international contracts.

In just a few months we will be seeing the first images from DECam. With a 3-square-degree field of view, about eight times larger than the size of the moon as seen from Earth, we will start building the largest, deepest map of the southern sky and take the next steps towards constraining the nature of the mysterious dark energy that is blowing the universe apart.