For many months, we members of The Hopewell Observatory have been doing our best to repair the 50 year-old clock drive on our university-grade Ealing telescope mount.
Yesterday, after a lot of help from others, I finally got it to work — at least in the day time. With no telescopes mounted on it. And 100% cloud cover. So I really don’t know for sure.
We still need to test it out on a clear night, to see how well it tracks and finds targets.
I think I will re-configure the wiring so that it fits in a box outside the mount, instead of using the weirdly-shaped compartments inside: one needs to do occasional maintenance on the OnStep hardware and software, and none of that is easy to access right now.
I’ve got the new stepper motors, and their drivers, and their power supplies, working away just fine on my desk, and I’m pretty excited and confident that we will have enough power and precision to drive and slew the Ealing properly!
These steppers are very strong: I am completely unable to stop the motors with my hands (bare or gloved) either when they are just tracking or when they are slewing at full speed or guiding at low speed, even with a fairly large fixture on the end of the shaft.
Without Ken Hunter’s expertise, there is no way I could have figured out how to get these particular steppers wired so that they would run, especially since they require those special, large, green and black drivers that you see in the photo above, which are about the size of the palm of your hand. Ken deserves a real round of applause, and more. (I have found that his advice on the OnStep wiki message board is much more accurate and friendlier than the advice of many others there.) In addition, he also repaired two boards that had been incorrectly soldered and assembled by someone else and which I and Alan Tarica purchased from that person, separately.
Before Ken’s intervention, the boards didn’t work. He found a number of assembly and soldering errors, and not only fixed them, but he also ‘flashed’ them with the latest OnStep software versions. At no cost! Now, they work very well.
I want to thank Prasad Agrahar again for his original inspiration and follow-through, and also Alan Tarica for his enthusiastic and knowledgeable assistance and advice (which I don’t always follow).
What’s more, as far as I can tell, this arrangement with super-duper steppers and drivers is unique in OnStep. Something like it clearly exists in some form in the professional or amateur CNC world, which is why we can purchase these insanely complex drivers for less than $9 apiece and the steppers for just $37 each, but to my knowledge nobody in the OnStep world has done this particular arrangement.
The old NEMA-23 steppers and these new ones have the exact same ‘form factor’ except that one can use larger bolts to fasten the new ones to the L-shaped brackets I already have installed.
The attached schematic diagram is a first draft of how the connections on the mount itself will be made. The wiring job is going to have a lot of parts, and lots of connections!
At the observatory, we won’t have those old military-grade, 14-connector cables any more, nor that very heavy old hand paddle whose cable we all used to trip over. Instead, I ordered 10 feet of 14-gauge, 4-conductor shielded, stranded cable that is highly rated for both high and low temperatures, in order to connect the DEC drive to the rest of the scope. It will need new strain-relief grommets. So will several other wires. I can re-use most of the existing holes in the cover plates for this mount, and will seal the rest of them to keep out insects. Wiring all of those new connections will take a while!
We will have a local wireless connection (with a small external antenna, like on a router, to make sure there is a good wireless signal), and a small (2x3x5 cm) dedicated basic weather monitor (very basic: just humidity, temp, etc) attached somewhere on the mount*. There will also be an emergency ‘Kill’ switch to allow one to stop the drive immediately if needed.
You can control the scope with a Smart Hand Controller that will be attached via a flexible ethernet-type cable, or, if you prefer, with an inexpensive Android cell phone or tablet that has the proper software installed. (We will leave a tablet up there, with its charging cord.) One won’t need to unclamp, slew, and re-clamp the RA and DEC axes any more in order to acquire a target. We will see how good the pointing accuracy and tracking are, once it’s all up and running.
Since we are using much stronger stepper motors than the ones had been suggested to me and that I had purchased earlier, and they needed a lot more current, we needed different drivers. As a result, most of the connections I had previously fabricated won’t be of much use for us anymore. Perhaps I can give them away to somebody else who is attempting an OnStep conversion on a telescope mount that weighs much less than this one.
Here is a little video of these things in action:
And here is my first draft of the schematics showing how these things all connect inside the scope as well as how we will connect them to the body of the mount itself. It’s crude, but I think it will be useful.
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.
The other regulars and I at the DC ATM group at the CCCC have been trying to test a 12 inch Cassegrain mirror and telescope manufactured nearly 50 years ago by a company called Ealing and currently owned by the Hopewell Observatory, of which I am a member. It hasn’t been easy. I discussed this earlier on Cloudy Nights.
Reports from several people, including Gary Hand and the late Bob Bolster, indicated that the optics on this mirror weren’t good at all. Apparently the folks at the University of Maryland’s observatory were sufficiently unhappy with it that they either sold it or gave it to National Capital Astronomers, a local astronomy club, who in turn gave it or sold it to Hopewell Observatory.
With a plain-vanilla Ronchi test, we could see that the mirror was very smooth and continuous, with no turned edge, astigmatism, or bad zones. With the Foucault/Couder zonal test (aka “Foucault” test) , I got results indicating that it was seriously overcorrected: some sort of hyperboloid, rather than the standard paraboloid characteristic of classical Cassegrain telescopes, which have a parabolic primary mirror and a hyperbolic secondary mirror.
However, I have begun losing my faith in my zonal readings, because they often seem to give results that are way out of whack compared to other testing methods.
So we decided to do some additional tests: the Double-Pass Auto-Collimation (DPACT) test used by Dick Parker, as well as the Matching Ronchi test (MRT).
The DPACT is very fiddly and exacting in its setup. We used (and modified) the setup lent to us by Jim Crowley and illustrated by him at his Astro Bananas website. Our results seem to show that the mirror is in fact NOT parabolic, rather, overcorrected, which confirms my Foucault measurements. If it were a perfect paraboloid, then the ronchi lines would be perfectly straight, but they definitely are NOT: they curve one way when inside the focal point, and curve the other when the tester is outside the focal point.
We also tested the entire setup on a radio tower that was about half a mile (~1km) distant. We found that the images were somewhat blurry no matter what we did.
We also attempted the MRT on the same mirror. However, requires very accurate photography and cutting-and-pasting skills in some sort of graphics programs. What you are inspecting is the curvature of the Ronchi lines. Here is the result that Alan T and I got last night:
In black is the ideal ronchigram for this mirror, according to Mel Bartels’ website. The colored picture is the one we made with either my cell phone or the device I finished making earlier this week, shown in my previous post. Here are the two images, separated rather than superimposed:
The mirror’s focal length is 47.5″ and the grating has 100 lines per inch, shown somewhat outside of the radius of curvature. The little ‘eyelash’ on the lower left is simply a stray wire that was in the way, and doesn’t affect the image at all. The big hole in the middle is there because the mirror is a cassegrain.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really see any differences between the real mirror and the theoretical mirror. Do you?
So, what does this all mean?
One possibility is that the mirror is in fact perfectly parabolic (as apparently shown by the MRT, but contrary to what I found with Foucault and DPACT) but there is something wrong with the convex, hyperbolic secondary.
Another possibility is that the mirror is in fact NOT parabolic, but hyperbolic, as shown by both my Foucault measurements and the DPACT (and contrary to the MRT), which would mean that this telescope was in fact closer to a Ritchey-Chretien; however, since it was marketed as a classical Cassegrain, then the (supposedly) hyperbolic secondary was in fact not tuned correctly to the primary.
The answer is left as an exercise for the reader.
A star test would be the best answer, but that would require being able to see a star. That hasn’t happened in these parts for quite some time. In addition, it would require an eyepiece holder and a mount of some sort. Or else setting up an indoor star…
We at the Hopewell Observatory have had a classical 12″ Cassegrain optical tube and optics that were manufactured about 50 years ago.; They were originally mounted on an Ealing mount for the University of Maryland, but UMd at some point discarded it, and the whole setup eventually made its way to us (long before my time with the observatory).
The optics were seen by my predecessors as being very disappointing. At one point, a cardboard mask was made to reduce the optics to about a 10″ diameter, but that apparently didn’t help much. The OTA was replaced with an orange-tube Celestron 14″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on the same extremely-beefy Ealing mount, and it all works reasonably well.
Recently, I was asked to check out the optics on this original classical Cassegrain telescope, which is supposed to have a parabolic primary and a hyperbolic secondary. I did Ronchi testing, Couder-Foucault zonal testing, and double-pass autocollimation testing, and I found that the primary is way over-corrected, veering into hyperbolic territory. In fact, Figure XP claims that the conic section of best fit has a Schwartzschild constant of about -1.1, but if it is supposed to be parabolic, then it has a wavefront error of about 5/9, which is not good at all.
Here are the results of the testing, if you care to look. The first graph was produced by a program called FigureXP from my six sets of readings:
I have not yet tested the secondary or been successful at running a test of the whole telescope with an artificial star. For the indoor star test, it appears that it only comes to a focus maybe a meter or two behind the primary! Unfortunately, the Chevy Chase Community Center where we have our workshop closes up tight by 10 pm on weekdays and the staff starts reminding us of that at about 9:15 pm. Setting up the entire indoor star-testing rig, which involves both red and green lasers bouncing off known optical flat mirrors seven times across a 60-foot-long room in order to get sufficient separation for a valid star test, and moving two very heavy tables into said room, and then putting it all away when we are done, because all sorts of other activities take place in that room. So we ran out of time on Tuesday the 5th.
A couple of people (including Michael Chesnes and Dave Groski) have suggested that this might not be a ‘classical Cassegrain’ – which is a telescope that has a concave, parabolic primary mirror and a convex, hyperbolic secondary. Instead, it might be intended to be a Ritchey-Chretien, which has both mirrors hyperbolic. We have not tried removing the secondary yet, and testing it involves finding a known spherical mirror and cutting a hole in its center, and aligning both mirrors so that the hyperboloid and the sphere have the exact same center. (You may recall that hyperboloids have two focal points, much like ellipses do.)
Here is a diagram and explanation of that test, by Vladimir Sacek at http://www.telescope-optics.net/hindle_sphere_test.htm
FIGURE 56: The Hindle sphere test setup: light source is at the far focus (FF) of the convex surface of the radius of curvature RC and eccentricityε, and Hindle sphere center of curvature coincides with its near focus (NF). Far focus is at a distance A=RC/(1-ε) from convex surface, and the radius of curvature (RS) of the Hindle sphere is a sum of the mirror separation and near focus (NF) distance (absolute values), with the latter given by B=RC/(1+ε). Thus, the mirrorseparation equals RS-B. The only requirement for the sphere radius of curvature RS is to be sufficiently smaller than the sum of near and far focus distance to make the final focus accessible. Needed minimum sphere diameter is larger than the effective test surface diameter by a factor of RS/B. Clearly, Hindle test is limited to surfaces with usable far focus, which eliminates sphere (ε=0, near and far focus coinciding), prolate ellipsoids (1>ε>0, near and far foci on the same, concave side of the surface), paraboloid (ε=1, far focus at infinity) and hyperboloids close enough to a paraboloid to result in an impractically distant far focus.
We discovered that the telescope had a very interesting DC motor – cum – potentiometer assembly to help in moving the secondary mirror in and out, for focusing and such. We know that it’s a 12-volt DC motor, but have not yet had luck tracking down any specifications on that motor from the company that is the legatee of the original manufacturer.