A telescope to discover the universe

Features - Simulation

Engineers at the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) use MSC Software’s simulation tool for the placement of mirrors and the telescope’s movements during operation.

Where did our universe come from? Since the beginning of time, Galileo, Copernicus, Einstein, and other great minds have dedicated their life’s work to this timeless question. To help answer this, the team at the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) is building a 200ft telescope to help uncover what has plagued scientists and science fiction enthusiasts alike: Are we alone? How did the first galaxies form? What is the fate of the universe?

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is poised to answer these questions due to its ability to collect more light than other telescopes and the highest resolution ever achieved in a telescope. The project is sponsored by Astronomy Australia Ltd., Carnegie Observatories, Harvard University, and other universities and research institutions. Due to the complexity of the structure, placement of mirrors, and movements during operation of the telescope, the engineering team at GMTO used MSC Software’s simulation tool, MSC Apex, to simplify and shorten the design and simulation workflow.


The GMT will be housed in the Las Campanas Observatory on a mountaintop in Chile – a remote, dry climate that at night reveals one of the darkest skies on Earth – perfect to gain a clear view into the sky.

Despite the unobstructed view the Chilean mountaintop provides, the country’s frequent and substantial earthquakes presented a challenge for engineers working on the telescope. The 22-story building that will house the telescope must withstand earthquakes that can exceed 8.0 on the Richter scale, which means precise and accurate structural testing is crucial. Additionally, the mountaintop’s elevation means that the force of high-speed wind forces also need to be considered.

In addition to environmental concerns, the actual design of the telescope makes design and testing difficult. The GMT will be composed of dynamic, moving mirrors of different sizes. The primary mirror will be a 25m diameter dish, and additional mirrors will cover almost 4,000ft2. A dome shape may allow high winds to push the primary and secondary mirrors around. During these high winds, the large structure needs to overcome wind and temperature conditions to keep stable so the optics system remains accurate.


“I would use Apex, just for the whole integrated aspect of it – importing geometry, prepping, meshing, to analysis, and post-processing in one integrated tool at the level MSC is working toward – is absolutely impressive,” says Paul Rasmussen, telescope structural engineer at GMTO.

The group of engineers working on the design and development of the GMT needed a finite element analysis (FEA) tool to address load problems caused by earthquakes and other environmental hazards. At the same time, the tool had to be easy to learn and use for quick implementation. The GMTO team chose MSC Apex as their design and analysis tool.

Light from the edge of the universe will first reflect off the seven primary mirrors, then reflect again off the seven, smaller secondary mirrors, and finally, down through the center primary mirror to the advanced charge coupled device (CCD) imaging cameras. There, the concentrated light will be measured to determine how far away objects are and of what they are made.

MSC Apex’s dynamic components – importing utility, meshing features – were instrumental in the design and analysis of the GMT. The software was essential in identifying particular wind dynamics issues during the design process, which allowed developers to save time and increase productivity. MSC Apex became a critical tool in the GMTO’s design process because of its easy user interface and customized meshing and simulation features.

With the aid of MSC Apex, engineers at GMTO will be able to answer some of the toughest questions faced by humankind in a more streamlined, efficient way than ever before.

Giant Magellan Telescope Organization


MSC Software