Observatory

and Equipment

Roll out facing North
cool room facing south.
Roll out facing north white lights on.
Computer turntable.
Veiw from the control turntable.

Observatory Equipment:

  • Losmandy G-11 Mount.
  • Robin Casady custom machined dovetail and cross arm mount TGAD.
  • Stainless steel counterweights from Robin Casady.
  • Onstep Goto drive system.
  • Kendrick Anti dew system.
  • Celestron C8 F10/F1.9 fastar with internal flocking, Williams optics crayford focuser and Starlight Instruments feather touch focuser. Williams optics 2" dielectric diagonal.
  • Celestron C6-R F8 refractor with internal flocking, williams optics focuser.Williams optics 2" dielectric diagonal. Baader 2" fringe killer filter.
  • Williams optics Zenithstar 80 mm fluorite doublet refractor "10Th" anniversary.
  • Stella Cam II analog video camera from Adirondack Video Astro.
  • Mallincam EX analog video camera from Rock Mallin.
  • Digital setting circle Deep space explorer system from David Chandler with losmandy Encoders via RS-232.
  • Polar finder from Losmandy with Astro Electric illuminator.

Computer Equipment:

  • Compaq cQ57 laptop.
  • HP 2000 laptop.
  • Four 20" LED monitors in a landscape-portrait-portrait-landscape arrangement.
  • Saitek Red LED keyboard.
  • Logitech rollerball mouse.
  • Four computer usb switch for keyboard/mouse.
  • Two Taurus USB hubs.
  • Two 30' Cables to go active USB cables.
  • Two Frame grabbers.
  • Radio shack 12 volt PWR supply.
  • Current software includes: CDC Cartes Du Ciel, Sharpcap, RTGUE, ASPS All sky plate solver.

Observatory Construction and Philosophy:

My observing style, goals and constraints have driven my observatory construction and setup to its present shape. It is Optimized for live real time video viewing with ease of start up and shutdown.

History:

I first started using a three wheeled scope dolly system rolled out and in from my garage to observe. Although it worked better than hand carrying the equipment outside it had issues. The concrete retained the days heat and affected the local seeing. Also, there was a lot of jugging cables and equipment in the roll out / roll in process. At that time I was also transporting the system to dark sites for observing.

Moving the equipment, assembly and disassembly was back breaking and since the dark skies camping opportunities were infrequent I decided to construct a temporary geodesic structure in the backyard that I used for a few years to increase my observing time throughout the year. The observatory was designed and constructed to be taken down in case of a hurricane. Since it was considered a temporary structure it was not an issue with local code. It was a success as designed but I still had to take the system down for the summer. It was just too hot for the equipment. I was also unable to use it in the summer because I was sharing space with the telescope in the open structure and the bugs and heat made it unbearable for me as well..

Present Observatory:

The present structure was a gift from my parents when my father passed away and was a hurricane approved, code approved structure. It is now in the same location as the temporary observatory was. At first I contemplated an opening roof modification but ultimately discarded that idea because of the number of problems to associated with that type of design and the end result wouldn't really fit my needs. After much contemplation I designed a trolley system with tracks to allow the telescope mount with all equipment to be rolled out and in for climate controlled storage. Using this design also allows the observatory structure to be separate from the mount and is positioned to the north of the mount thus minimizing thermal waves that affect local seeing conditions for the telescope. This separation also minimizes vibrations from the people using the observatroy and the instruments.

During good weather I can use the system with eyepieces if desired. During other times of the year I can roll out and use the system from inside the air-conditioned / heated room using integrated video cameras. A cooled / heated room was a mandatory thing if I was going to build a permanent observatory. This has greatly increase my observing time yet again.

Moving the trolley, cables & power in and out is very easy. The roll out is Usually performed in less than 10 minutes maybe a little longer for roll in with a late night stupor! I use a simple checklist so I don't miss anything important when working with an astronomy hangover!

Electricity to the observatroy is supplied from the house mains trenched from the north corner of the residence and Lighting is supplied by LED white and red lights installed inside.

Regulation of temperature and humidity is supplied by a self resetting Air Conditioner and a dehumidifier.

Security is supplied by motion LED flood lights are on all sides. A security motion alarm is also wired into the building. Surveillance is provided by a KASA wifi cam that allows me to moitor at any time and alerts if any movment occurs around the observatory and surrounding area. It will also alert of a power outage. Since the structure doesn't stand out or attract attention like a classic dome tends to I beleive the equipments safety is increased.

Lightning protection is accomplished by a copper grounding rod at the north side augmented by a tower on the north east corner suppling a cone of protection from lightning. The buildings natural metal siding also helps protect the equipment form discharge paths unlike fiberglass enclosures. Summer lightning in my area can be frequent and violent. When the trolley is in storage inside the building all cables and power are disconnected helping to minimize any stray current from a strike and help protect the sensitive electronics and instruments.

Installed inside is a dedicated desk with a multi-monitor display for operation of the observatory. Increasingly I find I use my hard copy reference material and charts less and rely on computer charts and digital copies of favorite books and references when observing and planning. When operating from inside visual and audible cues on the mount performance are lost so I employ a camera outside with a microphone linked to a LCD Monitor to help replace these important cues. When operating close to the horizon or the meridian I take extra caution monitoring mount performance to avoid problems and take note of any irregularities when slewing.

Not to be underestimated is building the observatory away from the residence allowing seclusion from television, family and other disrruptions while observing.

Trolley construction:

The trolley is constructed of wood with 5 heavy duty wheels per side. The mount is held down to the trolley with a cable system. The G11 head has a safety bolt installed to hinder turning in the quick locks. The trolley structure has surprisingly proven to help dampen vibrations. Polar alignment has proven to be quickly repeatable even with the mobile nature of the design. Polar alignment importance was a trade off. A simple camera allows me to see what the trolley is up to during slews when the roll door is closed in the summer. A remote red flood light is also installed on the trolley when needed and can be selected to white light if necessary.

The trolley also serves as a convenient storage platform for eyepieces, filters and other equipment. The mount legs have industrial female velcro applied in bands for quick placement of hand pads and equipment.

The 110 volt power is supplied by a mobile cord routed away from other cables to minimize electronic interference. A converter allows for 12 volt power and is supplied to a buss I built.

A color selectable LED flood light is installed on the trolley operated via a remote as well as a color selectable LED aray under the trolley to aid in working around the mount when needed.Portable red and white flashlights are mounted on the telescope trolley for handy quick access if needed.

Cable management problems are minimized by utilizing dual 30' active USB cables with hub's to operate the cameras and frame grabbers. The mount is operated via wireless wifi control with laptops and a samsung phone as a wireless hand control. I am not a huge fan of wireless systems due to connectivity problems that can come up just when you are deep in observing but the wifi mount control has proven to be flawless. If problems ever arise I will revert to an optional cable control.

Camera Focusing is controlled via a servo system and is done with a bahtinov mask. One mask fits both telescopes and can be performed quickly via a dedicated mini monitor at the mount or from inside the cool room.

Trolley tracks:

The trolley tracks are constructed of wood, leveled and supported by post blocks. The design allows the trolley to roll restrained side to side and is not connected to the building to minimize vibrations. The tracks have much less heat sinking structure compared to a deck or concrete pad. I have installed ground anchors with turnbuckles but I don't think they were really necessary. The tracks can easily be picked up and moved into the building if necessary for a hurricane. The trolley rails only require a yearly cleaning and paint.

Observatory:

Pro's:

  • Hurricane approved structure.
  • Code approved structure without custom engineering approval.
  • A Quick setup roll out / roll in.
  • Ability for telescope trolley to reach ambient temperature quickly and have no heat retaining material under the mount.
  • Climate controlled room for Me! Have you seen the bugs in Florida! Not to mention the heat!
  • Storage of the telescope and systems in a controlled structure for year round use.
  • Ability to retain a rough polar alignment.
  • Trolley system isolated from vibrations from the structure and the observer.

Con's:

  • Susceptible to heavy wind.
  • Susceptible to direct light pollution.
  • Precise arc second polar alignment must be adjusted at each use if needed.
  • sky not visible from inside the structure.
  • Dew has to be controlled.
  • Not a classical observatory structure.
  • When visually observing some scope positions can be awkward.

Possible upgrades and changes in the future:

  • All sky Camera.
  • Weather station.
  • Remote focusing for all telescopes.
  • Multi-monitor system for computers. Completed Winter 2019.
  • Upgraded desk and chair. Completed summer 2019.
  • Remote bahtinov mask operation.
  • Imaging and slewing automation.
  • Wind breaks for the trolley. So far even in windy conditions this hasn't been an issue.
  • Backup power for the mount to allow for a temporary power loss that would result in having to realign the mount and reset the system.
  • light color floor paint in the observatory cool room to aid movement in dark conditions.
  • Walkway from the house to the observatory. Completed fall 2019.
  • Walkway lighting 1800K. In progress.
  • Upgraded CMOS imaging camera.
  • Dedicated imaging PC for high frame rate imaging.



20190625_200144.mp4

Time lapse opening and rollout of the Instruments and mounting in preparation for a night of observations.

Observatory

Construction

Building installation 2018
Trolley track installation.
trolley wheel assembly
trolley construction
telescope's in park position for door clearance.
Trolley track construction and trials.
Operation trials.Computer turntable for use inside and when using outside.
Bed time! I hate lights but they will go off!


schematic diagram of observatory data network. control network. trolley power.