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Troubles building the MK I Radio Telescope


Rising costs for the MK I Radio Telescope
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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When this was... the cost of this was worked out, we ran into our first financial crisis. The trouble was not only that the redesign had cost a lot of extra money, but the cost of erecting steel, which had begun, which had been about £80 for a ton, had begun to rise sharply, so in any case, the original costs of £330,000 would be quite inadequate. Now, that did not cause a great deal of trouble. I... first of all, the DSIR were quite used to dealing with increases of costs, just sheer increases of costs, and the particular factor that the cost of erecting had gone up from £80 to something like £90 for a ton was not of particular importance in this increased cost. What I had asked to do so, though, was... and it became desperate, as I say, to save money, I did so at that stage by abolishing the original idea of making access to the focus.

We... when we had discussed how we would make access to the focus of this telescope, the bowl was to be... to have the focus in the aperture plane, that is the focus was to be carried on a steel tube rising up from the apex of bowl, a quarter of the diameter, that's 62 and a half feet. We had decided that the in consultation with Husband the easiest way of doing this was to have an arrangement where we could invert the bowl, and reach the focus by having a movable structure on the diametrical girder, moving on a track, which would... we would invert the bowl, and then drive this tower out to the centre of the telescope and climb up the tower, and have easy access to the focus. Husband never liked this idea. I'm never quite sure why. After all, the tower was to be quite high. He was probably a bit worried about the safety of working at this height on a slender tower running on the diametric girder. Anyhow, I said, 'Look, I'm going to save £20,000 or £30,000 by abandoning this idea. We will... instead we will have an arrangement that we will lower the tubular steel mast to the ground. We will invert the bowl and have a device to lower the tubular steel mast to the ground, and we will change the focus and then that is that'. So we did overcome this 1954 financial crisis without too much trouble.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Tags: Department of Scientific and Industrial Research

Duration: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008