Tailor-made flightcase for VDL's ELT project

VDL ETG — Tier-one design & contract manufacturing partner

On the basis of high quality and service level in the supply of mechatronic modules VDL aims to exceed their customers’ expectations. They have built up broad experience in the following markets: equipment for the semiconductor industry, thin-film deposition equipment for photovoltaic solar cells, analytical instruments, medical systems, science & industry and mechanisation projects.

What has been used

About ESO's Extremely Large Telescope – The world’s biggest eye on the sky

The European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will be the size of a football stadium and is going to be located in Northern Chile at an altitude of three kilometres on top of the Cerro Armazones. Its mirrors will make the largest eye in the world and will capture more light than all of the other large, professional optical telescopes combined. The ELT will enable scientific discoveries about planets, the composition of nearby galaxies and the deep universe. The construction of the foundation of the ELT has already started. The telescope should be operational in 2027.


To make ESO’s ELT’s 39-metre diameter main mirror in one piece is simply impossible. For this reason, it will be constructed from 798 hexagonal mirror segments of approximately 1.4 metres in size and 5 centimetre thickness each. Every mirror segment has its own support structure and is driven by several electric motors, which positions the mirror very accurately. The continuous correction is done by 9 electric motors on each frame and 3 electric motors under each frame. In order to be provided with a new reflective layer, mirrors must be replaced regularly. Therefore, approximately 950 mirror segments and support structures will be built in total, also taking into account spares.

VDL ETG is appointed to make the mirror segment supports design and qualification units, followed by series production of the mirror segments. The realisation of ESO’s ELT is a joint effort of several industrial companies, mainly based in Europe. Faes was asked by VDL to design and produce a custom flight case for transport of the mirrors and supporting components from Europe to Chile safely. Each element has to be packed separately, meaning a challenging order of about 1000 cases in total for this prestigious project. The flight cases, used for both transport and storage, had to comply with the following set of requirements:

  • The VDL components have to be packed in reusable cases;
  • The cases have to be able to withstand land, sea and air freight;
  • Special transport conditions have to be avoided;
  • In case wood is used in the packaging, it has to be certified according to ISPM 15;
  • The cases need to fit in standard ISO shipping containers (ISO norm 668);
  • The dimensions of the cases need to ensure minimum volume loss in shipping containers;
  • The cases require an integral shock absorbing system to reduce external impact.


To ensure the safe delivery of the >900 mirrors in the Atacama desert, the Faes KAM for the high tech sector Corné van de Voort closely cooperated with VDL ETG. Together with a Faes engineer they discussed the full set of requirements for the custom packaging. The Faes engineer designed a concept flight case packaging including a tailormade interior. After review and approval of the design by VDL, the flight cases went into production in-house at Faes (Reusel, The Netherlands).


At the time of writing, >400 flight cases have been produced and delivered to VDL. These flight case have been shipped or are scheduled to be shipped to the Northern part of Chile. The expectation is that all flight cases arrive at the Atacama desert well in time for the ELT to be fully operational in 2027.

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