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A little history.
It all started with a Konus 114mm F9 Newtonian scope. Man the first day it arrived, I could just see myself out there discovering comets and checking out galaxies. Mmmmm…boy did I have a lot to learn. First light with that little baby made me realise how important collimation was. It no doubt had suffered a knock in transit. Not one to let that get me down, by the next night, I was the collimation king…yeah well not quite. I had spent nearly all that day learning the ins and outs of the two-mirror system. No doubt not spot on, but oooh what I saw that night. After flicking around here and there getting used to slewing the thing manually, I think it was about 2 hrs into the sesh when whooo, I got onto the brightest visual galaxy visiting our late spring night sky. Yes it was M31. I didn't know that at the time. But just this first experience kept me going for the next two years. I spent most every clear night I could, heaps! plundering into the night's treasures. No, I'm not married. And by that, I don't mean anything. I know you can't be selfish when bringing up a young family, but for this hobby to grow beyond the wow factor, time, viewing, patients and plenty of reading is a must.
Within these two years and after much drooling over the pages of the many astro-mags, I bought a Vixen VC200L F9. As I didn't have enough money to purchase the mount and drives, I made do with a piece of pipe I bent and welded to aprox. 32deg(my lat) The contrivance of a locking collar set-up was then needed to take the scope base and enable me to move in RA and be able to lock it off when the object was in view. Of course the trouble with this was I had to unlock every 10 or so secs as the object would move out of view. This mount slotted perfectly into my removable clothesline base, so also could be moved around. Not at all perfect, but kept me going till I could afford the 'Vixen GP' mount. I had decided to make a permanent pier by the time the mount arrived, it was then only a matter of finding the best place for it.
Next step was into digital imaging. Please follow this thumbnail to a detailed explanation...
After many years of good service with the Vixen 'GP' mount, I upgraded to a 'Vixen GPDX' mount which really helped out at the time with better guiding and load capacity.
I then invested in a 'Orion 80ED' refractor for a wider field of view with my images. These great scopes came out on the market to fill a much needed niche that existed between those who could afford an Apo refractor and those that couldn't. For the price, they can't be beaten and there are many different companies that are selling these affordable scopes.
My 'GPDX' mount however only lasted me a little over 1 year. After purchasing a HX916, I then began to use my old HX516 for guiding and found this extra weight began to cause problems. A good friend of mine who had upgraded a while before had a Celestron CI700 mount for sale. These mounts were purposely built to handle the C14 scopes back in 1998 and boasted a weight carrying capacity of 60lbs. This mount that I have is one that was engineered for Celestron in America, having the USA stamp on it. The later models were manufactured in another country and then production on this line was stopped. So I sold my 'GPDX' and now am the owner of the 'CI700' mount. Lucky for me, my friend also had the Lenord Stage pulley and belt system with the Vexta PK264m-01b motors. After lots of fine tuning micro steps via the computer software (Mel bartels), replacing worm bearings, the system works very well indeed and as the gearing is extremely good haven't had to worry about doing any PEC.
Now it was back to scopes. I decided, as from seeing the first light image (WOW) from a friend I knew from the StarlightXpress group, Alan Chen done with his home made 10" F4 Newtonian truss scope, that this was definitely for me. I couldn't afford to buy a Ritchie Cretien or one of those marvellous astrographs put out by Astro Sytemes Austria. So this was the start of my new project to build a high precision astrograph which began in July 06.
The tube I originally built (October 2006) was made from a rolled paper tube which I then resined. Spray painting it with hammer finish paint was a good way to hide the imperfections. This tube did it's job well, but I was looking for something better.
Shown in the latest imaging setup (June '07), I have changed my tube design to that of a Protostar 'Blacklite' tube that I 4oz. cloth and epoxy resined. This was to ensure that I had zero sag/ movement from the focuser and rigidity with the critical demands of the focal length I image at. Since I had no intention of using any sort of reinforcing ring to the front of the scope, this was a good idea. Also I had in the back of my mind, to compensate for any camera upgrades in the future that would no doubt add more stress to the focuser area. The inside of the tube has been flocked with Protostar Light trap self adhesive paper, great stuff!!; the images that come up on my screen have so much more contrast!. The plate which holds the guide camera has been redesigned to limit flex and decrease weight. The primary cell is made from 15mm ply and has been reinforced by 4oz. cloth and epoxy resin. The focuser is a Moonlite CR-1, a great way to go and won't kill the budget. The secondary mirror was originally from Protostar, a 66mm, but since have upgraded to an Antares 1/20th wave 78mm, only obstructing around 31%. The 4 vane spider is from Protostar. The wonderful, precision made F4 10" primary mirror was done by the master, Bob Royce. The super sturdy tube rings were made by Parallax instruments. The primary mirror cell was designed by myself to suit the needs of the conical design of the Royce mirror and the nature of the tube. It has also been upgrade recently.
See the immediate photo below of my up to date setup (June '07) and compare it with the old... photo to bottom of page.
So now I'm very happy with my setup, well, at the moment. But as with all things in this hobby, there'll be another project, mod or purchase just around the corner...... :))
Latest imaging set up.
The setup as of June '07 featuring my 'Home made 10" F4 newtonian' (Tube made from Protostar's 'Blacklite' tube/, then modded with epoxy resin and cloth), sprayed flat black enamel. The newt rides on a 'CI700' mount. The Moonlite focuser, and an old JMI motor, controlled by computer via a shoestring controller box for precise focusing. The 'Starlight Xpress HX916' mono camera coupled to the new Starlight Xpress USB Filter wheel (as of Jan. 2010). This filter wheel is revolutionary to all the others as it is powered and controlled solely by a single USB connection. I use Astronomik Type II filter set (clear lum; red; green; blue) and also I have an Astronomiks 13uM Ha filter enabling me to take LRGB images as well as a combination mix with the Ha filter.
As of May '09, I invested in a SiTech servo control system designed by Dan Gray to replace my Mel Bartels stepper control box and motors. I chose this system as it's very user friendly and can configure just about any servo motor. It has its own ASCOM driver so will configure with any astronomy software that is ASCOM compliant. For example: The Sky, Maxim DL, PemPro only to name a few.
SiTech have a Yahoo user group which is very similar to the Bartels group. Dan is always upgrading the software and coupled with Chuck Shaw, these guys are always coming up with new innovations to include in the software. Check out Dan's site for more information.. Sidereal Technology
I had Lenord Stage fabricate the mounting plates I needed (see photos below)... as he knows my mount well. He also supplied the two Pittman 8000 series servo motors, the SiTech control box and handpad, fully wired, ready to use. Lenord is a great guy, dedicated to this hobby of ours and will sort out all your needs. He can fabricate anything, from a complete mount, or machine anything that you need. His motto is no job is too small. Check Lenord Stage's website and you'll see what he can do!. Goto telescopes
The mass of device cables that go to two 1ghz computers that control many functions.
Guider scope, Orion 80ED refractor, shown here mounted to a 14mm aluminium side by side plate. The guider's dove tail is 90 degrees to the 'side by side' plate to be able to bring the two scopes closer together, reducing differential flexure issues. My guide camera is a 'StarlightXpress HX516' that has given me 10 years of untroubled imaging.
The HX916 coupled to the new Starlight Xpress USB Filter wheel and Moonlite focuser.
The following set of images shows the Pittman 8000 series servo motors and pulleys..
Side view of the Ra drive. (2:1 reduction via pulleys)
Front view of Ra drive. Plate is attached via the existing worm housing bolts.
Side view of Dec motor coupled to worm. (2:1 reduction via pulleys)
The image below shows my original setup (October 2006).
The mount at this time was controlled by a Mel Bartels stepper controller box design and software (motor details mentioned in first paragraphs) ................ The original tube was 12" dia. and made of cardboard that I resigned. After a winter then into summer, I found that it seemed to loose its rigidity. It would have been fine for just casual viewing however.................................as I've mentioned before, when improving equipment, things never stay the same, and there will always be room for improvement in this hobby!!.
To see more shots of my setup click here.
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