I think I have succeeded in getting our OnStep build to work properly. Previously, whenever I asked the drive to slew to an new location, the stepper motors would build up to a certain speed and then stop rotating while they screamed, seemingly in protest. It’s called stalling.
With the help of several of the principal leaders in the OnStep project (Howard Dutton, Ken Hunter, Khalid Bahayeldin) and Alan Tarica and Prasad Agrahar, I think I may have finally got the settings set properly. The final secret was to reduce the slewing speed in the smart hand controller to the lowest setting.
This does make slewing rather slow, however. To go from the location of Jupiter to Capella tonight, which is a pretty long distance across the sky, took nearly eight minutes. Watch the video.
Here is a photo of the inside of the declination axis of the Ealing mount at Hopewell Observatory.
The gears you see were made about 50 years ago by the Ed Byers company, who continue to produce some of the finest gears anywhere. The periodic error on this mount is very, very low, which is a Good Thing, and why we want to keep it and just upgrade the old drive. As you can see in a previous post, the old system had a finicky clutch drive that had caused a lot of problems, but worked very well indeed when it worked properly.
I am working to replace it with a more modern, reliable and user-friendly, namely an OnStep ‘build’.
The friendly and helpful folks at the OnStep project were asking for a picture showing how the existing Byers drive was put together. I hope these four photos help.
In the first photo, notice the greasy worm gear at the bottom left. It was removed from the mount, along with the old motors, and is sitting on my desk (with the old grease cleaned off), directly coupled to the stepper motor, which connects to one of the OnStep boards (in the wood-and-black aluminum box). In the second photo,
The black anodized bracket in the second photo holds the motor and the worm gear rigidly together. The bracket bolts into a place in the mount (not shown). It took a bit of work to get the stepper motor and the worm gear lined up within a couple of thousandths of an inch, but it’s done. Prasad turned me onto those cool little universal joints that permit one to connect items that don’t match perfectly.
20 turns of the worm gear, times 359 teeth on the big gear, means that it takes 7,180 turns of the stepper motor to make one full revolution of this declination axis or of the right ascension axis, which is identically mounted. (Not that you would want to go about spinning your telescope very far on either axis!)
So 19.97 turns of either motor make the scope travel 1 degree (7180 divided by 360).
And since our stepper motors make 200 steps in one revolution of the worm gear, it takes about 3994 motor steps to make the scope turn by that one degree (the last result, times 200).
Or if you are micro-stepping by, say, the rate of one sixteenth of a step, then by my calculations it will take 63,911 microsteps to turn by that degree (the last result, times 16). And that seems to be outside the range of permissible microsteps for these stepper motors, perhaps causing them to scream in protest. (I swear, that’s what it sounds like!)
It appears that Khaled and Prasad might be correct: I might need to add a toothed gears and a belt to this arrangement to reduce that last number (63,911) by some factor. For very little money I just ordered a pair of such things, designed for 3-D printers and other computer-controlled machines. It will have 60 teeth on the motor and 20 teeth on the worm gear, and then the above would instead have only 21,304 microsteps to turn one degree. (No wonder they protest!) Once again I’ll have to disassemble the motor and drive bracket and do a bit of machining. A drill press and a punch will be fine.
The last two photos give some more detail on how the old drive system worked.
A few blog entries ago, I thought I had made great progress in getting the old telescope drives for Hopewell Observatory’s venerable Ealing Mount to work again. Unfortunately, it became clear that one had to adjust the amount of friction in the clutches very, very accurately, and I saw no way to fine tune it.
So I bit the bullet and decided to convert the mount over to an inexpensive system, at least partly DIY, that uses very inexpensive solid-state printed circuit boards and Android phones to control stepper motors that make the telescope point in the directions desired. (Instead of spending many thousands on a Sidereal Technologies rebuild.)
This system is called OnStep and is spearheaded by a number of very generous volunteers: Howard Dutton, who basically invented the system and wrote all the original code, along with Ken Hunter, George Cushing, and Khaled Bahayeldin, and a number of others whose names I don’t recall. It uses off-the-shelf components, chips and sub-boards, that cost very, very little; these are put on one of a slew of different possible 3D-printed circuit boards. There is even a Wiki that could use a bit of editing. It’s got a ton of information but when I was starting out, I found it extremely confusing, and I am not alone. I promised to try to improve it when I get the Ealing telescope working properly.
After getting the software to work, then you arrange the connections to your telescope’s gears, power supply, and communications inside your own mount.
I am immeasurably aided in this conversion effort by Alan Tarica, who is the co-leader of the Washington, DC-area’s Telescope Making, Maintenance, and Modification Workshop (which has been going on for about 80 years) and by Prasad Agrahar, who made a remarkable telescope in our TMMMW several years ago and went on to build his own OnStep conversion of an existing commercial telescope. Prasad’s example showed me that if our old Ealing drive died, we should try OnStep.
Well, the Ealing drive did finally die. (It had presented problems ever since it was first delivered to the University of Maryland Observatory nearly 50 years ago.)
Michael Chesnes and Bill Rohrer of Hopewell helped materially with removing the old components of the scope and with then trying to debug the electrical problem that has now sprang up with our roll-off roof.
Ken Hunter made for us, and debugged, an entire OnStep board and refused to take any money for it. Prasad Agrahar gave us some NEMA17 stepper motors and some wires and likewise refused to let us pay. Prasad drove all the way from Philadelphia to help Alan and me figure this stuff out in person, both at the workshop and out at the observatory. Ken has spent hours, remotely from Yuma AZ, walking me through the various steps in managing the many settings that need to be uploaded and adjusted in order to get things to work. Ken told me he used to run the ATMFREE list-serve, but retired from that after an injury, and he remembered meeting me once at Stellafane. He also very kindly sent us an antenna for the system so that it can run WiFi or BlueTooth more efficiently from inside our massive metal mount.
Alan and I are fairly far along in the conversion, thanks to all this help. I had to learn some of the basics of the Arduino operating environment, which one uses to set all the many, many parameters needed to get the system running. And had to improve my soldering techniques! Fortunately, all the heavy lifting of getting all of the many lines of code working together has been done by Howard, Ken, and the others, so all I had to do was set things up to fit our particular set of choices for the board, the stepper driver, the sub-boards, the gears, and the motors.
Here is our current setup: we have two (now three) MaxESP boards running OnStep version 2.04 (iirc). (Multiple boards because they are cheap and in case one gets fried by a lightning strike or stupidity. It happens!)
They have TMC5160 stepper drivers, connected to two rather beefy NEMA23 stepper motors (200 steps per turn), which I arranged to fit exactly in-line with the worm gear that we will later put back into the mount. We have tweaked the ‘CONFIG.H’ file settings the best we could, and with an enormous amount of help, I think I’ve set the speeds of the stepper motors correctly. The worm gear turns another gear with 20 teeth, which turns another one with 359 teeth. (All made by Byers, and made very, very well.)
(We had NEMA17’s run by the TMC2130 stepper drivers, but we didn’t think they were beefy enough to rotate the very large mount we have, even if we balance it perfectly.)
It’s been a very interesting learning expedition. It’s taken quite a bit of time, but not really very much money. With mass production, the components (screws, capacitors, diodes, resistors, and so on) if purchased in medium quantities, are really very inexpensive.
However, the stepper motors are still not behaving properly. They scream instead of moving, as you can see in this video. I will post the current parameters on the OnStep wiki, where I said. You can see and hear the action in this little video. When I try to slew to any random, dummy target, the steppers will start rotating and also start making a deafening squeal that gets higher in pitch and volume. However, after a little while, both rotors stop turning either completely or almost completely. The smart hand controller pretends that the mount is moving in both axes, but it’s not true.
Right now, I don’t know what is causing this problem.
More progress with the 22-inch wide, 4-inch thick mystery glass.
It took four of us old farts- Jim Kaiser, Alan Tarica, Tom Crone, and me – to extract the mirror from its case (which was located under a very heavy Draper-style grinding and polishing machine) roll it onto a little stand we fabricated on a decent gym scale I borrowed from my gym ( http://www.True180.fitness ) and weigh it.
We were very careful when moving that heavy mirror. Nobody got hurt in any way. When putting the mirror back into its sturdy wood carrying box, we used ancient Egyptian technology of little rollers, and it worked like a charm.
The bathroom scale we had used earlier, up at Hopewell was very, very wrong. We found that the weight of the glass was really 212 pounds (about 96 kilograms, or 96,000 grams), not 130 pounds. Its volume was 20,722 cc, so its density is roughly 4.6. Will have to see what types of glass have roughly that density and an index of refraction of about 1.72 to 1.76.
I heard from one veteran telescope maker:
“I’ve been in the Tucson astronomy club for many decades and also in the optics industry there. Most all institutions that had connections to astronomy or optics in the 60s got portions of several semi loads of “glass bank glass”, glasses that at one point in the past were considered strategic materials for certain optical designs/systems. There was a wide variety of materials, but almost all was identified in some way. We’re there any markings ar data scribed in the glass? The largest I saw was about 15”, so yours might be a different source.
“A co-worker of mine has identified several mystery glasses from an accurate determination of density. Seems like you should be able to get better results w/a more accurate scale. Also many glass types made decades ago are obsolete – my friend has some older glass catalogs that might help you determine what it might be with more accurate numbers.”
So these were cast-offs from the Military Industrial Complex, basically: pieces of glass that the military decided it no longer needed for projects that had either been completed or abandoned, and that they didn’t feel like storing any more. So they gave them away to groups like National Capital Astronomers and Hopewell Observatory.
The only markings on the glass are the following: a heavily inscribed (by hand) apparent date of 2-8-56, which probably means either February 8 of 1956 or the 2nd of August 1956. Judging by the handwriting style of the numerals, it was probably Feb. 8 of 1956 (US style). Under that are the numerals 0225, which we have no idea about. In pencil, someone with US-style handwriting wrote what looks like “Low #” in cursive. Again, we have no idea what that means.
About a week week ago, the right ascension (or RA) drive on a vintage mount at the Hopewell Observatory stopped working. Instead of its usual hum, it began making scraping noises, and then ground to a halt. (This drive is the one that allows one to track the stars perfectly as the earth slowly rotates.)
Another member and I carefully removed the drive mechanism, and I took it home. At first, I thought it was the motor itself, but after examining it carefully, I noticed that some clutch pads inside the gearbox had come unglued, causing the clutch plates to be cockeyed. The motor itself worked just fine when disconnected from the gear box.
I recalled that the pads and the clutch had been very problematic, and that our resident but now-deceased electro-mechanical-optical wizard Bob Bolster had had to modify the gearbox quite a bit. I carefully disassembled the gearbox and used acetone to remove all the old glue that he had used to glue the pads on. After doing some research to find some equivalent pad material, I yesterday ordered some new gasket material with adhesive backing from McMaster-Carr. Lo and behold, I received it TODAY! Wow!
I cut out new pads, re-assembled everything, and the gears and worm drive work just fine. Not only that: there were no screws or nuts left over!
In addition, I now see how we can replace the extremely complicated partially-analog clutch-and-drive mechanism, in both RA and in Declination with a much simpler stepper-motor system using something called OnStep.
Here is a photo of the some of the innards of the scope:
In the next photo, my pencil is pointing to the clutch pads inside the gear box that had come loose, causing the clutch plates to become cockeyed, jamming the gears. The clutch is so that the observer can ever-so-slightly tweak the telescope forward or backwards in RA, in order to center the target. There is another gearbox for the declination, but it’s still working OK, so we left it alone.
Of course, we still have to re-install the gearbox back in the scope.
Bob Bolster, mentioned above, was one of the founding members of the Hopewell Observatory. He was an absolute wizard at fixing things and keeping this telescope mount going, but he is no longer alive. I was afraid that I would not be able to fix this problem, but it looks like I’ve been successful.
I append an image of a very beautifully-refurbished Ealing telescope and mount – similar to the one owned by Hopewell – that belongs to the Austin Astronomical Society. Ours is so much more beat up than this one that it’s embarrassing! Plus, both we and the University of Maryland were unable to get the telescope itself, which is a Ritchey-Chretien design, ever to work properly. So we sold the mirror and cell to a collector in Italy for a pittance, and installed four other, smaller scopes on the mount instead.
Many years ago, the late Bob Bolster, a founding member of Hopewell Observatory and an amazing amateur telescope maker, got hold of a large piece of glass, perhaps World War Two military surplus left over from the old Bureau of Standards.
I have no idea what it is made out of. If Bob had any clue about its composition, he didn’t tell anyone.
Its diameter is 22 inches, and its thickness is about 3.25″. It has a yellowish tint, and it is very, very heavy.
If you didn’t know, telescope lenses (just like binocular or camera lenses) are made from a wide variety of ingredients, carefully selected to refract the various colors of light just so. Almost all glass contains quartz (SiO2), but they can also contain limestone (CaCO3), Boric oxide (B2O3), phosphates, fluorides, lead oxide, and even rare earth elements like lanthanum or thorium. This linkwill tell you more than you need to know.
If you are making lenses for a large refracting telescope, you need to have two very different types of glass, and you need to know their indices of refraction very precisely, so that you can calculate the the exact curvatures needed so that the color distortions produced by one lens will be mostly canceled out by the other piece(s) of glass. This is not simple! The largest working refractor today is the Yerkes, with a diameter of 40 inches (~1 meter). By comparison, the largest reflecting telescope made with a single piece of glass today is the Subaru on Mauna Kea, with a diameter of 8.2 meters (323 inches).
For a reflecting telescope, one generally doesn’t care very much what the exact composition of the glass might be, as long as it doesn’t expand and contract too much when the temperature rises or falls.
We weren’t quite sure what to do with this heavy disk, but we figured that before either grinding it into a mirror or selling it, we should try to figure out what type of glass it might be.
Several companies that produce optical glass publish catalogs that list all sorts of data, including density and indices of refraction and dispersion.
Some of us Hopewell members used a bathroom scale and tape measures to measure the density. We found that it weighed about 130 pounds. The diameter is 22 inches (55.9 cm) and the thickness is 3 and a quarter inches (8.26 cm). Using the formula for a cylinder, namely V = pi*r2*h, the volume is about 1235 cubic inches or 20,722 cubic centimeters. Using a bathroom scale, we got its weight to be about 130 lbs, or 59 kg (both +/- 1 or 2). It is possible that the scale got confused, since it expects two feet to be placed on it, rather than one large disk of glass.
However, if our measurements are correct, its density is about 2.91 grams per cc, or 1.68 ounces per cubic inches. (We figured that the density might be as low as 2.80 or as high as 3.00 if the scale was a bit off.)
It turns out that there are lots of different types of glass in that range.
Looking through the Schott catalog I saw the following types of glass with densities in that range, but I may have missed a few.
By comparison, some of the commonest and cheapest optical glasses are BAK-4 with density 3.05 and BK-7 with density 2.5.
Someone suggested that the glass might contain radioactive thorium. I don’t have a working Geiger counter, but used an iPhone app called GammaPix and it reported no gamma-ray radioactivity at all, and I also found that none of the glasses listed above (as manufactured today by Schott) contain any Uranium, Thorium or Lanthanum (which is used to replace thorium).
So I then rigged up a fixed laser pointer to measure its index of refraction usingSnell’s Law, which says
Here is a schematic of my setup:
And here is what it looked like in practice:
I slid the jig back and forth until I could make it so that the refracted laser beam just barely hit the bottom edge of the glass blank.
I marked where the laser is impinging upon the glass, and I measured the distance d from that spot to the top edge of the glass.
I divided d by the thickness of the glass, in the same units, and found the arc-tangent of that ratio; that is the measure, b, of the angle of refraction.
One generally uses 1.00 for the index of refraction of air (n1). I am calling n2 the index of refraction of the glass. I had never actually done this experiment before; I had only read about doing it.
As you might expect, with such a crude setup, I got a range of answers for the thickness of the glass, and for the distance d. Even angle a was uncertain: somewhere around 49 or 50 degrees. For the angle of refraction, I got answers somewhere between 25.7 and 26.5 degrees.
All of this gave me an index of refraction for this class as being between 1.723 and 1.760.
This gave me a list of quite a few different glasses in several catalogs (two from Schott and one from Bausch & Lomb).
Unfortunately, there is no glass with a density between 2.80 and 3.00 g/cc that has an index of refraction in that range.
So, either we have a disk of unobtanium, or else we did some measurements incorrectly.
I’m guessing it’s not unobtanium.
I’m also guessing the error is probably in our weighing procedure. The bathroom scale we used is not very accurate and probably got confused because the glass doesn’t have two feet.
A suggestion was made that this might be what Bausch and Lomb called Barium Flint, but that has an index of refraction that’s too low, only 1.605.
The Hopewell Observatory had available a finely-machined antique, brass-tube 6″ f./14 achromatic refractor.
The mount and drive were apparently made by John Brashear, but we don’t know for sure who made the tube, lens, focuser or optics.
We removed a lot of accumulated green or black grunge on the outside of the tube, but found no identifying markings of any sort anywhere, except for the degrees and such on the setting circles and some very subtle marks on the sides of the lens elements indicating the proper alignment.
The son of the original owner told me that the scope and mount were built a bit over a century ago for the American professional astronomer Carl Kiess. The latter worked mostly on stellar and solar spectra for the National Bureau of Standards, was for many years on the faculty of Georgetown University, and passed away in 1967. A few decades later, his son later donated this scope and mount to National Capital Astronomers (of DC), who were unable to use it. NCA then later sold it to us (Hopewell Observatory), who cleaned and tested it.
The attribution of the mount to Brashear was by Bart Fried of the Antique Telescope Society, who said that quite often Brashear didn’t initial or stamp his products. Looking at known examples of Brashear’s mounts, I think Fried is probably correct. Kiess’s son said he thought that the optics were made by an optician in California, but he didn’t remember any other details. His father got his PhD at UC Berkeley in 1913, and later worked at the Lick Observatory before settling in the DC area. The company that Brashear became doesn’t have any records going back that far.
When we first looked through the scope, we thought the views were terrible, which surprised us. However, as we were cleaning the lens cell, someone noticed subtle pencil marks on the edges of the two lens elements, indicating how they were supposed to be aligned with each other. Once we fixed that, and replaced the 8 or so paper tabs with three blue tape tabs, we found it produced very nice views indeed!
The focuser accepts standard 1.25″ eyepieces, and the focuser slides very smoothly (once we got the nasty, flaky corrosion off as delicately as possible and sprayed the metal with several coats of clear polyurethane). The workmanship is beautiful!
We have not cleaned the mechanical mount, or tried it out, but it does appear to operate: the user turns a miniature boat tiller at the end of a long lever to keep up with the motions of the stars.
The counterweight rod was missing, so I machined a replacement, which has weight holder clamps like you see in gymnasiums. Normal Barbell-type weights with 1 inch holes fit well and can be adjusted with the clamps.
Unfortunately, the whole device is rather heavy, and we already own a nice 6″ f/15 refractor made by Jaegers, as well as some Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes that also have long focal lengths. Putting this scope on its own pedestal, outside our roll-off roof, with adequate protection from both the elements and from vandals, or figuring out a way to mount it and remove it when needed, are efforts that we don’t see as being wise for us.
Did I mention that it’s heavy? The OTA and the mount together weigh roughly 100 pounds.
However, it’s really a beautiful, historic piece with great optics. Perhaps a collector might be interested in putting this in a dome atop their home or in their office? Or perhaps someone might be interested in trading this towards a nice Ritchey Chretien or Corrected Dal-Kirkham telescope of moderate aperture?
Anybody know what might be a fair price for this?
The Hopewell Observatory
Some more photos of the process and to three previous posts on this telescope.
Hopewell Observatory has three WW2 or Cold-War aerial spy camera optical tube assemblies, including a relatively famous Fairchild K-38. No film holders, though. And no spy planes. The lenses are in good condition, and the shutters seem to work fine.
We would like to give them away to someone who wants and appreciates them, and can put them to good use. Does anybody know someone who would be interested?
They’ve been sitting unused in our clubhouse for over 20 years. Take one, take two, take all of them, we want them gone.
We are located in the DC / Northern Virginia area. Nearby pickup is best. Anybody who wants them shipped elsewhere would obviously need to pay for packaging and shipping.
Here are some photos.
This one is labeled K-38, has a special, delicate, fluorite lens in front, and is stamped with the label 10-10-57 – perhaps a date. The shoe is for scale.
The next two have tape measures and shoes for scale.
Let me know (a comment will work) if you are interested.
We have been concerned with the status of some of the columns that are part of the roll-off-roof of the Hopewell Observatory, so we decided to remove a couple of courses of cinderblock to see what was inside. It turned out to be built much more sturdily than they appeared. and removing those two layers of cinderblock ended up being a much harder job than we expected. We had to build a very strong ‘crib’ to hold the upper part of the 9-foot-tall column in place while we removed the lower foot-and-a-third.
In the video, you see me using a small hand-held air-hammer with chisel to clean up the underside of the upper part of the column, so that the new solid cinderblocks can be mortared into place. The buzzing noise you hear is the air compressor.
We didn’t realize there was rebar (reinforcing iron bars) and concrete poured into most of the ‘cells’ of the 16″ by 24″ columns. Now we do.
How I left it: two solid blocks and some plywood in case our cribbing and jacks give way
You are looking up towards the majority of the column
(In the summer of 1970, between my junior and senior years, I found a job in Brooklyn working on a rodding truck for the local electric power utility, Con Edison — a hard and dirty job that made me itch constantly because of all the fiberglass dust that was scraped off the poles we used to clean out the supposedly empty, masonry, electric conduits that went from one manhole to the next. I guess I pissed off our truck crew’s supervisor, so the very day that I was about to quit to go back to college, I was told that I was being transferred to a jack-hammer crew, where I probably would have gone deaf. This woulda been me, except I quit)
After that was done, I trimmed some of the trees to the west. Constant struggle with the shrubbery!
I found a few things that may have been causing problems:
(1) Whoever put the lens cell together last didn’t pay any attention at all to the little registration marks that the maker had carefully placed on the edges of the lenses, to show how they were supposed to be aligned with each other. I fixed that, as you see in the photo below. The reason this is probably important is that the lenses are probably not completely symmetrical around their central axes, and the maker ‘figured’ (polished away small amounts of glass) them so that if you lined them up the way he planned it, the images would be good; otherwise, they would probably not work well at all and could very well be causing the poor star test images we saw.
2. The previous assembler also put eleven little tape spacers around the edges, between the two pieces of glass. More is apparently not better; experts say you should have three spacers, each 120 degrees apart from the other two. Done.
3. The bottom (or ‘flint’) element is slightly smaller than the other one (the ‘crown’), so it probably shifted sideways. That alone would be enough to mess up the star tests in the way that we saw. So I wrapped two thicknesses of blue painter’s tape around the outside of the flint, and put some three cardboard shims between the edges of the ‘crown’ and the aluminum cell.
4. There were no shims at all between the flint and the aluminum ring that holds it in place underneath. This caused some small scratches on the glass, and might have been warping the glass. I put in three small shims of the same type of blue painter’s tape, lined up with the other spacers.
We will see if these improvements help. I really don’t want to haul this all the way out to Hopewell Observatory and struggle with putting it back on the mount for a star test. That was just way too much work, much more than I expected! The next test will be with an optical flat placed in front of the lenses, and a Ronchi grating.
I would like to thank Bart Fried, Dave Groski, and several other people on the Antique Telescope Society website for their advice.
By the way, these photos show how we held the refractor on the mounting plate for the Ealing mount at Hopewell Observatory.