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Technical feasibility study by leading engineering firms

The underground Einstein Telescope will be Europe’s most advanced observatory for gravitational waves. Four international consulting firms will study whether the soil of the Meuse-Rhine Euregio is suitable to house the Einstein Telescope.

The Einstein Telescope is of great importance for physics and astronomy, becoming one of the world’s most sensitive observatories for gravitational waves. The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany are jointly investigating whether to host this world-class observatory in their border region, the Meuse-Rhine Euregio.

Commissioned by the Dutch research institute Nikhef, a technical feasibility study on the Einstein Telescope is now starting. The Dutch consultancy Tunnel Engineering Consultants (TEC), a permanent joint venture between Royal HaskoningDHV and Witteveen+Bos, will carry out the technical feasibility study in cooperation with the Swiss partners Amberg, Lombardi and the Belgian Tractebel.

Underground observatory

The Einstein Telescope will have a triangle of three vacuum corridors, each ten kilometres long, at 250 to 300 metres below the Earth’s surface. There, sensitive lasers and vibration-free suspended mirrors will continuously measure gravitational waves.

The Einstein Telescope will detect a thousand times more gravitational waves than its predecessors. By measuring those ripples in spacetime, scientists aim to hear black holes collide and gain knowledge about the early universe, just after the Big Bang.

Hans de Wit, Management Director at TEC commented: “The Einstein Telescope is unique in the world. It is science of the highest order, and we are extremely proud that with our knowledge and experience we can contribute to this iconic observatory.”

Ideal location

The location in the border area of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany was selected because the area’s soft topsoil blocks vibrations caused by human activity at the surface, allowing the underground observatory to take measurements undisturbed.

The border area is at the heart of a top European region, with many universities nearby in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. There is also a network of high-tech companies with expertise in the precision technology needed. This network of knowledge institutions and technology experts increases the attractiveness of the Meuse-Rhine Euregio as a business location.

Among other things, TEC investigates the suitability of the subsoil, the best position of the three points of the triangle and all the technical challenges involved in building tunnels at depth.

Hans de Wit, Management Director at TEC: “Tunnels are our DNA at TEC, and we are well-known as global market leaders in tunnel engineering and design – we’re delighted to bring our expertise to assess the feasibility of this location for the iconic Einstein Telescope.”

Ultimately, the three countries will decide at cabinet level whether to apply as a possible site. The Italian island of Sardinia is also interested in hosting the Einstein Telescope. The final choice of location is expected to be made at European level in 2025/2026.

René Zijlstra, Business Development Director at parent company Royal HaskoningDHV: “An iconic project like the Einstein Telescope is truly groundbreaking, both scientifically and in terms of civil engineering challenges. Something like this simply doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. So we are delighted that TEC has been appointed to demonstrate, as experts in our field, exactly how we could make it happen.”

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