I just read the answers to the question "Why are all space observatories in Chile?". In addition to the reasons provided, one of the answers also mentions that

...if the telescope should be manned by humans permanently, it cannot be located to high due to the difficulty for humans to function at extremely high altitudes, ...

Which leads to my question:

Are there any unmanned large telescopes located on Earth?

I realize that, even if large telescopes are unmanned, they probably need to be serviced by humans on a regular basis. But are humans needed permanently on site?

I also realize that, even though there are humans monitoring the measurements from space telescopes, space telescopes are unmanned in the sense that there are no people at the space telescopes manning them.


2 Answers 2


The largest "robotic" (i.e., unmanned) telescope I'm aware of is the 2.4-meter Automated Planet Finder. Other large robotic telescopes include the 2.0-meter Liverpool Telescope and its copies (Faulkes Telescope North and Faulkes Telescope South). You can read about the automated control system of the Liverpool telescope here.

These are all located at existing observatories (e.g., APF at Lick Observatory, Liverpool Telescope at Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain), which means there are people on site for potential maintenance work, etc., though said staff are really devoted to working on other telescopes.

The closest thing to an isolated, automatic telescope in an uninhabitable setting might be the small (0.5-m) Antarctic Survey Telescope at Dome A in Antarctica, which I believe is serviced annually by Chinese expeditions. It can apparently be remotely controlled via Iridium satellite communications, though actually retrieving the full data sets is part of what the annual expeditions are for.


In addition to @PeterErwin's answer, there is the Himalayan Chandra Telescope (2m), located near the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle at 4500m altitude but operated remotely from near Bangalore.

If you want to leave the realm of optical astronomy, the ALMA telescope array is located at 5000m altitude in the Atacama desert in Chile and operated from a nearby support facility located at an altitude of 2900m. Access to the array itself is kept minimal due to the extreme altitude.

  • $\begingroup$ Although for ALMA there is, I believe, continuous staffing at the array itself -- including paramedics to help people suffering from the extreme altitude. pbs.org/newshour/updates/reporters-notebook $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2017 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterErwin: I can't find any information on that on the official website. Observations are done from the OSF, though. However, from what I remember when they set up ALMA, the plan was to regularly drive the antenna transporters up to the high site and swap out antennae for maintenance. Several times a year, the array configuration would be changed. (There are more antenna positions than antennae, and you can change from a lower to a higher resolution array by swapping them around.) Beyond that, and maybe maintenance on the correlator, there should be no need for people to be up there. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Jun 28, 2017 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ You may be right (and I'm probably wrong); I found a comment in an article about the correlator compute cluster here to the effect that "the AOS Technical Building is expected to be unmanned during routine ALMA operations"... $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2017 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterErwin: I've looked a bit more, but I cannot find anything definite either way. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Jun 29, 2017 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ There is also RoboNet. Wikipedia actually has a listing for this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robotic_telescope $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2017 at 15:08

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