The ESO New General detector Controller (NGC), has evolved over three decades from previous controller generations, namely the ESO IRACE and FIERA. Both of these former ESO controllers are still operational and in use by many instruments at ESO telescopes. The NGC is a controller platform which can be adapted and customized for all infrared and optical detectors. Recently NGC has also been deployed in adaptive optics with electron multiplication CCDs and infrared electron avalanche photodiode arrays. Since NGC runs all new detector systems of ESO instruments, a uniform platform is available at the observatory which facilitates operation and maintenance.
The NGC controller is based on the Xilinx FPGA. In comparison to the previous ESO controllers, all digital parts, like RAMs, FIFOs, and the sequencer, are fully implemented in the FPGA, so that less external components are needed. The detector front-end electronics are connected via fiber optic cables to the PCIe card of the PC. Over the same cable, commands and data are transferred using a time multiplexing technique.
The NGC already had its first light at the VLT Telescope in Chile. Various ESO instruments already use the NGC. An instrument like MUSE reads out 24 CCDs simultaneously and SPHERE uses several different types of detectors like the Hawaii2RG and the Hawaii1 infrared detectors, ZIMPOL CCD and adaptive optics CCD220. Recently we achieved the best performance with the SAPHIRA MOVPE eAPD detector. The ESPRESSO instrument, with the largest clock capacitance ever handled by a controller, had its first light with the NGC.