PLATO-A - deployed in 2012

PLATO (PLATeau Observatory) is a University of New South Wales designed and manufactured robotic astronomical observatory for Antarctica. The first PLATO was deployed in 2008 by the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This original PLATO supported scientific instruments for astronomy and atmospheric site testing on the highest point on the Antarctic Plateau, Dome A (4093m).

NCRIS funding allowed an upgraded PLATO (PLATO-A) to be deployed to Dome A. PLATO-A is the primary support platform for the Chinese-led AST3 project. PLATO-A was deployed in January 2012, and the original PLATO is still operational. AAL supports continued maintenance and operations of PLATOs through funding from the Australian Government's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) program.

PLATO-R - deployed in 2012

Part of AAL's Education Investment Fund (EIF) grant was used to fund another next-generation PLATO: PLATO-R. Deployed in January 2012 by the University of Arizona and UNSW to Ridge A, PLATO-R is a modular version of the original PLATO, designed to fit inside a Twin Otter aircraft. The project is also funded by the NSF.

PLATO-R supports the 60 cm HEAT telescope, which is constructing spectroscopic maps of the Milky Way in frequency bands from 0.5 to 2 THz (600 to 150 microns wavelength), where the extremely cold and dry conditions of the Antarctic plateau provide an exceptionally clear view. The HEAT telescope is exploring star forming regions, some and aims to solve the mystery of how interstellar clouds are formed and evolve. HEAT's images, spectra, and atmospheric measurements are available here.

Read Prof Michael Ashley's diary of PLATO-R's deployment to Antarctica on The Conversation.

PLATO-F - deployed in 2011

PLATO-F, partially funded by the Australian Government's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), was shipped to Antarctica at the end of 2010 and deployed by the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research to Dome F. A successful servicing and upgrade mission was completed in January 2013, with PLATO-F now fully operational and supporting several instruments including the latest auroral camera. AAL's contribution to PLATO-F is now complete.

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PLATO-F enroute from the Japanese coastal station of Shyowa to Dome Fuji, a distance of about 1200 km. Credit: Hirofumi Okita. 


The PLATO-R Instrument Module, shortly after its arrival at the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in December 2011. Credit: Michael Ashley. 

AST3 collaboration

Completed in 2013

The University of New South Wales contributed to the replacement of the prototype experiment CSTAR at the Chinese Kunlun Station, situated at Dome A on the Antarctic Plateau. The CSTAR experiment will be replaced with three AST3 wide-field optical telescopes, each of which is 0.5m in diameter. UNSW's autonomous support platform, PLATO-A, provides power, data handling and communications for the AST3 telescopes. UNSW used Education Investment Fund (EIF) funds to contribute to the AST3 project through the construction of instruments to characterise the site's infrared background and the all-sky cloud cover.

The first of the three AST3 telescopes, AST3-1 was deployed to Dome A in the summer of 2011/12 and began operations in March 2012. The data collected by AST3-1 during the 2012 Antarctic winter was retrieved in the summer of 2012/13.

The PLATO-R/HEAT (THz) collaboration recently announced the availability of Data Release 1:


~2TB of data from the PLATO-A/AST3 (optical/IR) collaboration is available by contacting: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

AST3 SettingUpThe AST3-1 installation team begins final assembly.

PLATO factsheet

AAL has created a Factsheet on the PLATOs.

Key Contact

Prof Michael Ashley, UNSW.