The out-of-this-world project redefining 'edutainment'

A new planetarium project in the UK has the potential to revolutionise education and entertainment. Reece Webb reports.

Many integrators will work on a career defining project, and for Amir Khosh, a new, one-of-a-kind planetarium project nestled in the heart of Nottinghamshire, UK, has sat at the centre of his world.

A project more than five years in the making, ST Engineering Antycip will be part of the large-scale developmemt that is the Sherwood Observatory, which aims to drive education enrichment and visitor attraction in marginalised communities.

Amir Khosh, technical sales manager, ST Engineering Antycip, commented: “This project was started by the team at the observatory, who looked at the existing site where people enjoyed watching the stars. There was an adjacent piece of land that they thought could be turned into a planetarium.

“There is a community event hosted by the British Association of Planetaria that Antycip attends every year. With the planetarium project in mind, Sherwood Observatory trustees Steve Wallace and Chris Dakin came along and found us five years ago, we were one of the first companies that they spoke to. We came up with how this hypothetical planetarium would look, how it would affect the local area and we developed a design, looked at software and Wallace pitched this idea to the local community. The message was that it could help universities with studies, it can help with entertainment, it could help inspire people in deprived areas and could create more jobs.”

Antycip is working in partnership with RSA Cosmos on this project which has received the local Ashfield District Council’s approval for plans to build a £6.35 million (approx. €7.35 million) planetarium and education centre to attract visitors, assisting the academic world as well as entertaining tourists and visitors.

Khosh continues: “We aim to help the local community and inspire people to follow STEMbased careers by offering the facility as a research centre, linking the planetarium to the observatory next-door in real time. If you can’t be outside or if you have a large audience, you can project what is happening in the observatory into the planetarium, few planetariums have direct access to an observatory or even a dark-sky with limited light pollution.”

Antycip helped the planetarium early on in the project, providing free advice on design points before the project eventually went to tender, which Antycip won. Antycip joined the project so early on in the design phase that they were able to be involved with the specification of the system from day one, helping to build the planetarium from the ground up.

Khosh says: “Some other planetariums or museums retrofit a dome into the space which is not bespoke for the purpose. This is custom built for the user experience.”

From the very first day Khosh joined Antycip, this planetarium has been a critical focus and a passion project. “I’ve been to many planetariums, and I have an aerospace degree, so I had a real, personal interest to help make this project happen,” explains Khosh. “Having that background and being interested in what happens in outer space made this a personal project to me, we went the extra mile on this one.”

The planetarium will be 10 metres wide, starting construction in late August and opening to the public by November 2024. However, this is no simple planetarium built to attract visitors with the mere marvel power of the stars; the Sherwood Planetarium is made to also offer a space for educational organisations to harness AV to enhance their learning through clever integrations with their own learning materials.

“This planetarium focuses on STEM,” says Khosh, “A lot of the way that we deliver the hardware and software is not just tailored to entertainment, we are trying to help the local area with learning.

“When I went to planetariums 20 years ago, you would just go and see something like a 3D model, but that is completely different here. You might watch an animation, but you get so much meaning from it. The software delivers entertainment and mathematical information about the stars and offers an integration for Unity so schools can develop their own models and teaching modules, integrate their models into Unity and import it into the planetarium to visualise it on a large screen.”

The planetarium dome is no simple light show: the installation will boast a selection of Sony projectors, tipped to offer high resolution (4.4K). Antycip will provide Sony GTZ380 projectors to simulate the dark sky environment and deliver high contrast. The planetarium will also feature boardrooms that can be used as classrooms for visiting schools and universities to simultaneously meet the needs of educational and entertainment-centric visitors.

Khosh says: “The quality of the projection will be so high that you will be able to see every pixel on the dome. “Having the planetarium right next to the observatory is very important. We are going to link the two facilities together so that we can have a live feed of the observatory, showing what the telescope can see in real time inside the planetarium.

“They’re also trying to attract more people from different communities. Down the line, there are options to implement a multi-lingual system for other communities that might be in the area, offering opportunities for overseas visitors and religious studies. There are many different ways that STEM will also be implemented in the future once we have a better understanding of what the requirements are.”

The construction project will commence soon, followed by the planetarium installation next year. For ST Engineering Antycip, this project marks the first break into the planetarium space for the company as Khosh explains: “This project has been challenging in a good way. We weathered this project through the pandemic, Brexit and numerous other challenges, which shows that this isn’t your average AV project. This project had to be backed by the local authorities, schools, local community and so many investors. The fact that they were all on board through all of that over the years is what makes it unique, people really see something special in this project.

“This has turned into something that I am personally passionate about. From the day that I joined Antycip, I was involved with this project all the way up to the present day. There have been numerous quotes, designs, working through the entire process with different companies. I have been personally invested in this topic and seeing this project come full circle will be a point of pride. “This project will offer a lot of inspiration and passion to younger generations, inspiring them to go to college or university to study this industry further and for me, that is a very nice end goal.”

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