These engineers go the distance.
Light-years, to be precise.

See how

Sand, surf and a sky full of stars

The summit of Maunakea towers nearly 14,000 feet above a tropical Hawaiian paradise. It’s home to W. M. Keck Observatory—and the world’s most scientifically productive optical and infrared telescopes. After the completion of a nine-year motion control upgrade project, the observatory holds more promise for astronomers than ever. It’s all thanks to the team at Keck, including Mechanical Engineer, Ean James, and Electronics Engineer, Ben McCarney—and a little help from their partners at HEIDENHAIN.

In my work as an engineer, I get the most fulfillment from coming up with solutions to problems that are artful and elegant, and also mechanically sound and reliable.

– Ean James, Mechanical Engineer at Keck

Out-of-this-world precision

When W. M. Keck Observatory opened in 1993, the telescopes were the first of their kind—and the largest in the world. But twenty years later, the Keck team recognized the need to update the systems—and improve the telescope pointing, tracking and offsetting performance. A significant part of the project was the installation of new telescope azimuth and elevation position encoders. Interpolated to a 10-nanometer resolution with a HEIDENHAIN EIB 749 box, these new ERA 84XX tape encoders allow for true 4 mas (milliarcseconds) resolution in azimuth and 1 mas resolution in elevation—a huge improvement from previous technology.

Working with HEIDENHAIN has been great because their products worked out of the box. They’ve been giving us great performance.

– Ben McCarney, Electronics Engineer at Keck

Keck by the numbers



270 tons

The weight of each telescope


13,599 feet

The altitude of Keck


1 arcsecond

Each telescope’s degree of positioning accuracy


9 years

The length of time to complete all upgrades

angle encoders

Learn more about the HEIDENHAIN products behind the Keck telescopes.

About our angle encoders