Roboscope status updates
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2007 January 29
Yesterday, the future pier for the Roboscope was installed at our future site in Lovettsville. Participating in the digging and concrete pouring (and internet connectivity testing) were myself (Craig Tupper), Pete Johnson, Phil Wherry, Chris Nowland and Arlen Raasch, as well as our host, who shall remain anonymous for the sake of privacy.
Pictures of the blessed event, courtesy of Phil, are posted at http://www.novac.com/robo/images/pier.html . Phil Wherry noted that this is the first "permanent" NOVAC observing facility/structure NOVAC has ever had. I think he's right. As of now, Roboscope remains in Pete's back yard, and is fully functional, available for imaging via browser on any clear night. Our goal is to move everything (scope, structure, computers/electronics) to the new site in early March, and get it installed and operational in one day. If we can pull that off, there will be almost no interruption in service.
2007 January 21
We're cruising. Robo is taking great images; check out the Images page for a few samples. The observatory has been rock-solid for the last three weeks; we've been open for business 7 nights, and had lots of users. Still hope to move soon, but don't wait, get an account and start imaging now!
2006 December 30
It's been a long year, and too long since I posted an update. Briefly:
Although we haven't had Robo available for users much this year, we think we are in the home stretch. After another night or so of testing, and a few remaining tasks, we hope to be in a darker location in early 2007.
- The 8" LX200R OTA arrived in early June (finally).
- After a few weeks of setup at my house, we moved the scope back to the observatory in Pete's yard in August
- In September, we fried another AP mount drive motor (the RA this time).
- In November, we got the repaired motor back and reinstalled it at Pete's.
- In December, we ironed out a few more bugs and started getting ready to move to a darker site.
2006 January 13
Good and bad news:
The new and improved Roboscope (with Astrophysics 600E GTO mount and SBIG ST-2000XCM single-shot color camera) was reinstalled in the observatory in Pete Johnson's back yard January 8, after 9 months of upgrades and repairs at my house.
But not quite completely installed. Before buying the AP mount, I did a lot of calculations to make sure that our 10" SCT OTA would still fit inside our structure. And, it does fit OK, in every orientation that I looked at. Unfortunately, the OTA does barely hit the side of the structure, if the scope is pointing about 30 degrees below the horizon, either east or west. And while we can prevent the telescope from slewing to a target that is below the horizon, a German mount can do really odd things, including pointing the scope temporarily below the horizon, when it flips from the east side of the pier to the west side.
It was, um, upsetting to see that. Rebuilding the observatory is not really an option. But there may be a silver lining. A few days earlier, Meade announced the introduction of their modified Ritchie-Chretien optics in a "standard-looking" SCT-like OTA, without the front-end focusing. They call it the LX200R. Anyway, I ordered an 8" OTA for only $1250, and am selling our 10" SCT for maybe a little less than that. Besides fitting inside our observatory (yeah, I'm sure) the 8"
- will reduce the weight on our mount, which was a bit overloaded with the 10"
- should provide better images - less coma, sharper stars
Now, the appeal: shipping of the LX200R's is supposed to start the end of this month. I ordered 4 days after the product was announced, but I have no guaranteed delivery date. Could be months for all I know, and I would like to have something up and running in the meantime. SO: if you have an 8" Meade SCT OTA that you would be willing to loan, I'd like to pop it in Robo until the LX200R arrives. Please contact me (Craig) if you can help.
2006 January 3
First status update for a while - sorry! Briefly, the upgrade to the Astro-Physics mount and SBIG ST-2000XCM was completed in early August. Unfortunately, as soon as that was done, we experienced a complete loss (hard drive failure) of the original Robo computer; Phil Wherry kindly built up an entirely new machine, and I (Craig) had to reinstall/reconfigure all of the software from scratch. It's been up and running since late September, with numerous nights of imaging time available to users while the scope was in my back yard, inside the Beltway. Meanwhile, I've been wringing out a number of hardware and software issues.
The system is now ready to head back to Pete Johnson's back yard in Centreville. Hope to be able to install it there in the near future. Meanwhile, Pete has installed a rain sensor on the observatory, which will probably become our first line of weather defense.
2005 May 21
Happiness! At its monthly meeting, the Board approved an upgrade to an Astro-Physics 600E GTO mount. At about the same time, we received a donation of a practically-new SBIG ST-2000XCM single-shot color camera -- exactly the camera I wanted to upgrade to. As of this date, the mount an camera have been received, and I am starting to put things together in my basement. We are going to try the Meade 10" f/6.3 OTA with the new camera and see how it works. It may be a few more weeks before we are back online, but we'll be better than ever! Meanwhile, John Deriso completed repairs of the LX200, so we'll be selling that as soon as we decide whether to keep the OTA.
Here's a picture of our new mount, and here's an image of M88 taken by the donor of our new camera (through his scope, not ours), and another of M13.
2005 May 1
Our LX200 classic failed for the third time on April 3 (the dread "RA runaway"). John Deriso is fixing the RA motor again, but we've made the decision to upgrade the mount (we may keep the OTA) and camera. Discussions are underway with the Board. I expect to have some exciting news soon.
2005 March 14
We have about 45 users, able to take images via web. We are open tonight, with 5 users signed up.
Pete has been making very good progress with the observatory structure
automation. The following functions are now controllable (by Pete or me)
REMOTELY via internet, and/or have been automated:
- The lid can be opened/closed. The angle of the lid is measured and converted
to % open. Pete has implemented a script that runs every morning at 5am and
commands the lid closed, in case it has been left open for whatever reason.
- The 25w interior dome light can be turned on/off. This is potentially useful
at night, when the system is not in use, as a double-check of telescope and lid
status. We have a webcam inside the structure that shows the position of the lid
- The electronics box vent fan can be enabled/disabled. The internal
temperature of the electronics box is monitored, and the fan (when enabled)
turns on when the box gets too warm.
- We have 2 computers running. In case the telescope/camera/user interface PC
completely locks up, we can power it off/on remotely. The observatory structure
control PC has been running for months without incident. More PC redundancy /
backup systems are planned.
- I have a script running every 5 minutes; if it finds the telescope to be not
in use by anyone, but tracking, it turns tracking off. This (and a couple other
changes for double protection) will prevent the scope from wrapping around
itself, as has happened a couple times in the past (ouch).
- The CCD camera power can be turned on/off at the power supply. This may or
may not be used, depending on whether MaxIm provides a .vbs script command that
will power off the camera fan. We want to be able to turn the fan off (when the
camera is not in use) to extend the fan's life.
- The off-the-shelf weather station is functioning and recording basic data
(temp, humidity, pressure etc.) automatically to a text file. The rain gauge is
not sensitive enough for our purposes; Pete is looking to buy/build a replacement
that will signal the lid to close if a single raindrop hits it, but won't be
affected by dew. Pete's cloud sensor is also being overwhelmed by electronic
noise, he plans to install shielding and a signal amplifier. Eventually the
weather system will provide an automatic "go/no-go" signal to the lid. Once we
get there, the goal is to modify the current user reservation system, using the
Yahoo calendar. We would like for users to be able to make reservations at any
time (without an invitation from me), and have the dome open "on demand", weather
permitting. We will still have to have time limits for users, obviously; can't
have people monopolizing the system.
What's going on with the imaging system and user interface:
- I have the "queued observations" capability working well. I am running the
queue every night we are open, after the last user is done. Those folks who have
entered queued requests will find the images in their directories, assuming that
the target was actually visible between 12-5, and successfully imaged. I am
starting to work on the capability for each user to track their previous, and
- Unfortunately we are still cooling the camera to only 1 degree C for the last
couple weeks, instead of well below that. That's because the camera is frosting
at lower temperatures, and Pete can't find the replacement desiccant. :-( We
have more desiccant on order, as well as a replacement SBIG camera cooling fan
for the one that is groaning and near burnout. I hope to install those items
this weekend, or early next week. Until then, due to the 1 degree cooling, all
images have been noisier (dark current) than usual. This has the secondary
effect of making autoguiding much less reliable. The likelihood of getting a
bright enough star on the small autoguiding chip has always been a bit marginal;
in many cases the brightest star in a 20-second exposure is now less bright than
a hot pixel (high dark current). This is especially true when shooting through
color filters, which dims the star images, or into a haze, or low on the horizon
into the muck, or out of the Milky Way. In some cases this has caused the
autoguider to start "tracking" on a hot pixel, which never moves, with the result
being an image with real bad trailing. Again, this should improve with desiccant replacement and
cooling. Until then I have turned off autoguiding.
2004 September 26
The Roboscope is almost back in business, after a 2-month hiatus. Hope to have it available for imaging later this week. More details:
Robo was moved from my house to Pete Johnson's on August 1. Took about 6 hours to install scope et al into the structure, modify network settings etc. Due to clouds and schedules we couldn't polar align until August 15. On a subsequent night we discovered that the focuser was not acting properly. After contacting focuser manufacturer, finally diagnosed that I had made a bonehead mistake and installed the wrong 6-wire serial cable. I dropped off the right cable at Pete's on 9/19; and after fixing that and one other glitch; last night (9/25) was the first night that the entire imaging system was up and running, post-move. I took about 150 images.
Pete says his sky is probably only about mag 5. Not as good as I thought but still a big improvement over the ~4.2 in my back yard, under ideal conditions.
Pete has computer control of the structure lid working, and is going to get that set up so that I can drive it remotely. At that point, routine Robo operations will be back to a 1-person (me) job, with the scope 40 miles away in Pete's back yard. Pete is also on the verge of integrating his weather monitoring equipment. There are other developments in work that will make Robo operations more autonomous in the future.
We also experienced an unplanned test of the UPS (backup power supply) recently, when Pete's lawn maintenance company ran over his power cord. Everything in the observatory kept running for several hours without hitch. This UPS has plenty of power to keep us up and running until we can get to wherever the scope is in the future.
2004 July 29
The bad news: the weather has stunk lately, so 38 Robo users haven't been doing much imaging.
The good news: Pete has made good progress with the observatory structure, and we're about ready to move the telescope from my back yard to Pete's back yard. This is a major step towards our goal of moving to a WV mountaintop with mag 6.7 skies. In the short term, it will get us from mag 4.2 and bad horizons, to mag ~5.5 and much better horizons.
Depending on weather, a move this Sunday is possible. If not, asap thereafter. The move will probably put us out of business for 2-3 clear nights, to enable basic testing. After that, users should notice cleaner, more detailed images.
2004 May 10
Pete Johnson has finished building the electronics bay, and has attached it to the observatory structure. Next tasks include installing the UPS & power; installing internal temp sensors and computer; building out internet access; getting webcam online so structure is visible online, and implementing manual internet control of the lid. Once that's all done we intend to install the scope, while debugging and installing the rest of the sensors, circuits, code etc. until fully automated capabilities are achieved. Current structure pictures are available.
Meanwhile, testing and improvement of the telescope / camera / web user interface continues, with the telescope in Craig's back yard. Over 30 members have Robo access privileges, and most have taken CCD images, simply by logging in from their home computer. The telescope is seeing moderate use on any night when it is available, but there are usually one or two hours of imaging time that go unclaimed. If you would like to try your hand at it, read through the Roboscope User's Guide (available to members only).
2004 February 15
We've had two major setbacks, both of which we've recovered from. In early January, the right ascension drive on our LX200 telescope failed, in the dreaded "runaway" mode. It started slewing east at high speed and would not stop. Some determined diagnosis by Craig, and handy soldering by John, got us over that one for a couple bucks, avoiding about $400 for shipping the scope back to Meade for repair.
Also, our observatory control PC decided to break. Windows 2000 Pro would not boot. Even our IT wiz Phil couldn't save the patient; we had to reinstall the operating system, plus all of the astro software.
The development team has had two meetings, one at Pete's house and one at Craig's. Pete is making good progress with the weather monitoring equipment and structure control PC. During the meeting at Craig's house, the team decided to switch to Craig's structure as our primary. The team also decided to simplify Craig's design, by building an external box for the computers and electronics equipment. Bob will continue to work on his design as a back-up, in case Craig's should prove unsatisfactory for any reason. Craig's structure has been motorized, and has been outdoors (protecting the telescope etc.) since November. Pictures of the team, and the new primary structure, are available at http://www.wherry.com/photos/2004-02-07-novac-roboscope/
Craig has been working to finish a couple of mods to his structure, as suggested by the team. The current plan is to deliver Craig's structure to Pete's back yard, on the weekend of Feb. 28. The scope and camera will stay at Craig's, while Pete works on integrating the weather monitoring equipment, and other components, with the structure. The intention is to test the structure control system for a while, without the scope inside. Once we have confidence that the structure/controls will autonomously protect the scope and camera, we will install the telescope and camera. Then we'll test the whole shebang, before moving to a darker location.
Craig also got Comcast cable installed at his house. This will allow users to download images much faster, while the scope is still at Craig's house. Unfortunately, due to the telescope and computer problems, and Craig's focus on building his structure, the scope has been out of action in 2004. Hopefully it will be back up soon.
John obtained, and repaired, a fantastic used uninterruptible power supply. Ed donated a couple of webcams that we are using for testing; we eventually want one inside, and one outside, the structure.
2003 December 6
The observatory structure has been essentially completed by Bob Neff. On December 14, we intend to pick up the structure and deliver it to Pete Johnson's house. Pete will be responsible for integrating the structure with the weather monitoring equipment and controls, and testing it through the harsh winter months. Meanwhile, Craig has built a structure of a different design, which has been protecting the Roboscope outdoors for the last three weeks. Should Bob's structure not face up to weather well, we have a backup.
The program for the December 14 NOVAC meeting will be a live demonstration of the Roboscope. We will go online from GMU, and if the weather cooperates, take images remotely from the Roboscope. If the weather is bad, we will use software simulators for the scope and camera, and will still be able to demonstrate the "look and feel" of the user interface software. We'll also be giving passwords to current NOVAC members to access the Roboscope.
At the monthly NOVAC Board meeting December 2, the Board approved the purchase of a color filter wheel, plus additional funds in 2004 to potentially upgrade the camera. The color filter wheel has been ordered, and may be installed in time for the December 14 demonstration. The Roboscope team thanks the Board for their support!
Operational testing is still going well. On one recent night the Roboscope was in continuous use (observing time completely scheduled) by 5 users, from 7pm-midnight. There are no known serious issues, but Craig is continually tweaking and improving the user interface. Release of the final version of the queueing software, which will allow members who don't have control of the telescope to submit requests for images to be taken later, is imminent, thanks to many hours of scripting by Mike Mills.
2003 October 17
User interface testing continues while we wait for the structure to be completed, integrated with the weather monitoring equipment and controls, and tested. There are now 24 NOVAC members who have passwords for access to the Roboscope; most of them have logged in at least once and done some imaging. Meanwhile, a User's Guide, including directions for getting access to the Roboscope, has been posted in the Members Only section of the NOVAC web site.
2003 September 15
First, the bad news: Bob has been travelling for work the last few weeks, and has been unable to make much progress on the observatory structure. And although he's basically happy with the operation of the motors, clamshell, etc. he's come to the conclusion that plywood (even 3/4") is not a good material for the clamshell roof sections, due to warpage. So he intends to replace the roof sections with triple thickness polycarbonate panels, available from greenhouse supply houses. This material is strong, light, UV resistant, and available in opaque/translucent colors (good for taking flat field images through). Short story is, it will still be some time until the structure is ready to integrate with computers, weather monitoring stuff, and finally telescope/camera.
In better news, Pete has purchased some commercial weather station hardware, and has made progress in characterizing his homemade "cloud sensor". His "star counter" telescope, with a webcam imager, turned out to be insufficiently sensitive, even with a 6" lens in front of it; Pete has handed that over to John, who intends to modify the chip to enable longer exposures. That should give us the needed sensitivity to detect stars in a 1-degree wide field, regardless of where it is pointed.
We continue to customize and enhance the web user interface software, but the basic functionality is very easy to use and has been pretty well tested. In order to continue to drive out bugs and issues, we are now making the Roboscope available for use by local NOVAC members, while the telescope is still located at Craig's house inside the Beltway. Interested members should be aware that the skies are mag 4.2 on a good night, and the horizon is severely limited by trees and a house. Still, some very nice images have been taken.
To get access to the Roboscope, please attend an orientation session 1/2 hour prior to any of the next several regular NOVAC meetings. The next orientation session will be at 6:30 at GMU, in the lobby outside the meeting room, on October 12. Bring your membership card to show that you are a member in good standing. You will receive a password and other information.
2003 August 12
The big picture is, things are moving along. Here's what Bob Neff had to say on
August 12 about the observatory structure, which will have a 6-segment
"clamshell" roof opening:
"This week everything gets reassembled with waterproof glue and screws and then
all surfaces and edges will be primed and painted. The only design change is the
addition of fixed outside shields for the moving side panels. These will protect
hands and fingers from the moving panel sections that can pinch, reduce the
potential of the moving sections jamming with wind blown branches, etc. and
provide mounting sites for any external sensors on the east and west sides of the
building. The roof drive and fail-closed setup work very well but I am still not
completely satisfied with the magnetic release/latching mechanism. This needs
more study and adjustment (tinkering). Rodents: I can line the inside of the
equipment bay with sheet aluminum and cover the ventilation grates with quarter
inch or smaller galvanized wire for rodent control."
In other news, Pete Johnson is making good progress on weather stuff, and showed
us his home-brew Cloud Sensor 1.0 using a Peltier cooler and copper plates to
measure the differential temperature between sky and ground. Pete has also had
"first light" with his "star counter" cloud sensor and wants to get it to a dark
site for further testing. He is currently shopping for a basic weather station,
to include rain gauge, wind gauge, thermometer, etc. He's also done a lot of
software/hardware work to enable all of this stuff to talk to the observatory
As far as the telescope/camera control software itself, a small group has been
testing the system for the last three months, using just a web browser to capture
CCD images from the scope and camera while it is in Craig Tupper's back yard.
Most of the serious issues have been ironed out, except for the frequent
appearance of clouds! Several images from the test phase have been posted on the
project web site. A Yahoo email list has been established for the group, and we
are going to start using that for notification of when the Roboscope will be
online for testing, as well as for scheduling observing time using Yahoo's
Calendar function. If this works well we may use that list for the same purposes
for future operations.
Phil Wherry has delivered version 1.0 of our Observing Request Queueing Software
(ORQS), which will allow members to submit requests for images to be taken later
whenever the telescope is in use by others. That should be working well enough to
test it with the current group of testers once or twice; then my hope is to open
up the Roboscope to the whole club while it is still in my back yard, some time
in September. That will give me time to drive out other issues, and let members
get familiar with the system, before Pete gets comfortable enough with the
structure/weather/control to incorporate the scope itself.
In summary, progress is perhaps slower than some of us hoped when we started nine
months ago but we are getting there. Budgetarily we are well within projections.
I am disappointed that we probably won't be on the mountain in 2003, but we are
making real progress towards a capable and robust system, and there should be
benefits to doing local testing during harsh winter weather.
2003 May 23
Internet testing started about three weeks ago. Several testers have logged on to the Roboscope,
while it is in Craig's backyard, and acquired images using the web
interface. We have a limited view of the sky during this time, but the
system is working well. Pointing is excellent. An autofocus routine is
working, as is autoguiding. The web interface is fairly user-friendly, and more improvements
are in the works.
Phil Wherry is working to create a web page that will accept target requests for
later execution. This capability will be offered to anyone who logs on to
the web site when the telescope is already in use.
Bob Neff has started construction of the observatory structure. Pete Johnsonhas
been making progress on the observatory control computer, including some
programming of the unit that will interface with the motors, weather
monitoring equipment, sensors, etc. Within a couple of weeks these separate
efforts may be ready to start coming together.
Four sample images have been posted.
2003 March 14
Structure status: CAD/CAM design is almost finished. Construction to start soon
after. Design is a clamshell lid with a translucent window to enable flat fields
to be taken with lid closed. Also incorporates an internal retractable "awning"
to provide additional weather and dust protection.
Telescope imaging train has been finalized. Using a focal reducer adapter results in an image scale of 1.74
arcseconds per pixel, while eliminating the diagonal and OTA balance issues.
Total field of view of the ST7 camera chip will be 22x15 arcminutes. Effective
focal ratio is f/4.2. Because the camera will still not pass between the fork
arms, we will be limited to less than 74 degrees north declination. In other
words, will not be able to image near Polaris. Amount of sky that cannot be
imaged is about 2% of what is available from our latitude, not a big loss.
Telescope/camera control PC and software continues to work well. Have done
several scripted runs of 50-60 images in the same general area of the sky, as
well as a couple of shorter runs with slews halfway across the sky. Pointing
error is never more than 2-3 arcminutes and the software has no trouble figuring
out where the scope was actually pointed ("plate-solving"). In practice our
slews will probably be short, so pointing shouldn't be much of a problem as long
as the initial position is known.
Should be adding and testing modem and web interface software in the next month
Pier-to-wedge interface adapter should be machined out of aluminum stock in
A second computer has been donated to serve as the observatory control. Necessary
process control hardware has been purchased. Planning on loading Linux on with
Java to start software development soon.
Development of a star counter telescope has begun and is well along. This will
be one element of the weather monitoring system, which will also likely include a
rain sensor, an infrared cloud sensor, and perhaps automated monitoring of online
Still shooting for a summer deployment near Moorefield, WV.
2003 February 9
On Sunday, before the monthly meeting, the following members of the roboscope team met: John Deriso, Ed Karch, Bob Neff, Bob Parks, Craig Tupper, and Phil Wherry.
Bob Neff has completed the entry of the structure design into his CAD program, and presented a mock-up of the internal canvas awning. He's worked out many of the materials issues, and will soon be ready to start construction, pending final resolution of the telescope's clearance requirement, which Craig will provide within the next week or so. Bob intends to do the basic construction in his home.
Craig presented the results of his tests using four different imaging train configurations. After much discussion of the pros and cons, the team elected to proceed with a configuration using the TCF-S focuser, a focal reducer, and a straight extension tube, followed by the ST-7 camera. Although we expect to use an f/6.3 reducer, Craig borrowed John's Meade f/3.3 just to try it. The chosen configuration will restrict the scope from going above 65 degrees north declination, a loss of about 5 percent of the sky available from 38 degrees north latitude, but offers a stiff imaging train and the ability to use a focal reducer for the greatest possible field of view. Choice of this imaging train enables Craig to begin to train the temperature-compensating focuser, and will also finalize the required dimensions of the observatory structure. (Note: following the meeting, Bob Parks identified an option that may allow us to use a focal reducer without losing any sky coverage in the north; we are pursuing that.)
Bob Parks suggested investigating an aftermarket yoke that would allow adapting other OTAs into the LX200 fork assembly, and/or potentially reduce (or eliminate) interference of the imaging train with the telescope fork. He will forward info on that product to the other team members. (We will pass on this option for now.)
Craig reported on success using the ACP software to perform several automated imaging runs, capturing (for example) about 60 images over the course of an hour and a half. There is still a lot of software to learn, but the core stuff is working well. Hope to have Phil and Bob visit Craig's house within the next month, in order to familiarize them with the imaging system and set up the web interface/ftp software on the PC.
After some discussion of internet comm requirements, it was decided that our preferred solution includes a wireless connection from the observatory to our host's home down the road, and a DSL or dial-up connection from there. Phil and Bob Parks will pursue this.
John Deriso presented a CAD drawing of a pier-to-wedge interface unit. He has a friend that will machine it. Craig needs to provide the length of the central wedge hold-down bolt. (Done.)
Pete Johnson was not at the meeting, but appeared at RH&B and informed us that he has a lead on another potential site, an astronomy-friendly park near Spruce Knob, with AC power and staffed 24 hours a day. Pete will pursue that, and will also start serious work on the weather monitoring system and the observatory control PC, with help from other team members.
Still hoping to be up and running this summer.
2003 January 13
On Sunday, before the monthly meeting, the following members of the roboscope
team met: Craig Tupper, Pete Johnson, Bob Parks, Bob Neff, and Hank Doyle. After reviewing 3 different plans for the observatory structure, we agreed to
pursue a design submitted by Bob Neff. It's a "clamshell" design, and should be very robust. Bob is going to incorporate some recommended changes and present a
revised design to the group in a few weeks.
Also Sunday, Bob Parks delivered to Craig Tupper the (donated) pc for telescope/ccd control
and comm interface. Craig needs to go learn
the software package (ACP) that will drive it all through MaxIM. The system is currently
set up indoors, Craig plans to do one successful scripted all-night mock session
inside (no focusing) before moving outdoors at the first projection of multiple
decent nights. After we get that working we will add the web interface software
and test it, by group members only at first, ultimately we'll probably open it up
for a full-up test (accepting target requests from NOVAC members) after we get
the structure built in someone's back yard. That is still several months away.
We have several irons in the fire for our comm link. Also investigating options
for running the AC power to our site (overhead vs. underground etc.) from the
existing pole about 90 feet away. If you or anyone you know would be willing and
able to do that for us, including digging a 3' deep trench for underground
connection or else setting a 25' pole in the ground and stringing the wire
overhead and down to a meter, please contact Craig! Right now this looks like a
significant budget hit (~$1000, more or less).
Still hoping to be up and running this summer.
Any questions about the project, please see the roboscope page first at
www.novac.com/robo/ . I've also received several additional offers of help.
Thanks! For now, I think we have a team that is about the right size, and has
the (considerable) skills needed for the design work. We will probably be
soliciting help in specific areas in the future, especially when we actually get
to the on-site barn-raising (digging footers, pouring concrete etc.). But if you
have some really special skills to bring to the design phase now, please let me
Thanks also to the many folks who have made donations to NOVAC on behalf of this
December 14, 2002: IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you are working on a structure design, you may need to increase the dimensions of your structure.
The sketch of the LX200 on its wedge indicates that the OTA requires a "swing radius" (clearance from the center of the declination axis) of 14.25". That is an accurate value, and can be used to determine the height of the lid with the telescope pointed at zenith.
However, the imaging train (focuser, camera, etc.) will extend out farther (from the center of the declination axis). In fact, the "swing radius" of the back of the imaging train will be approximately 16.5", without a filter wheel. Adding a filter wheel would add an additional 1". As a result, you should assume that the back of the imaging train will sweep out a circle of about 35" diameter, as the telescope sweeps around the horizon.
Sorry for any inconvenience.
December 12, 2002: structure design competition announced! Proposals due no later than January 11.
As of December 9, 2002 (web page first posted):
- many, many hours of planning and research have been invested
- telescope/camera control/user interface software selected; using demos for now, will order licenses soon
- we've purchased the TCF-S focuser and are testing the scope/CCD/focuser with MaxIM
- many observatory structure design issues have been kicked around, and we expect to have a design competition before the January club meeting
- we are configuring the observatory on-site telescope/CCD control computer, loading software on it
- have donated UPS unit in hand
- some options for weather monitoring have been sketched out
- have done preliminary investigation of internet connection options; DSL (Hardy Communications) may well be possible by spring/summer, satellite is solid fallback
- investigating costs and options for getting AC power to the site, as well as potential building code issues
- fiddling with design for aperture cover/flat field diffuser
How we got started
In October 2002, Craig Tupper announced to the NOVAC email list that the long-running NOVAC CCD Project was coming to an end. Pete Johnson asked whether Craig had ever thought about an internet-controlled CCD observatory for all NOVAC members. After a great deal of discussion between Craig, Pete, and Bob Parks, Craig and Pete made presentations to the NOVAC Board on November 5; the Board approved it. Charge!