Two days ago, Joe Spencer had first light with the 6″ f/8 Dobsonian he built in the DC-area amateur telescope workshop. He worked hard on this project over more than a year, including grinding, polishing and figuring his mirror, and it seems to work very well.
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.
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.
I am copying and pasting Clay Davies’ recent article published on a Facebook page for amateur telescope makers, where he gives links to extremely useful sources as well as commentary. I think he did a great job, and want to make this available to more people.
================================= here goes! ================================================
Amateur Telescope Making Resources & Fast Commercial Newtonian Telescopes
Observer’s Handbook, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Every amateur astronomer should have at least one copy of this book. Every “newby” should read it cover to cover. Old hands should keep it as a reference. Avid astronomers get it every year, because it’s updated annually.
How to Make a Telescope, Jean Texereau. A classic book by a superb optician. The author taught many people how to make their own telescopes, including grinding, polishing and figuring their own mirrors. This book offers unique and practical telescope and mount designs I have never seen anywhere else.
The Dobsonian Telescope, David Kriege & Richard Berry. Want to knock off an Obsession telescope? Here is your bible, written by the creators of Obsession Telescopes. Here you will find well thought out and time proven designs for truss Dobsonian telescopes from 12.5” to 25” and more. If you are handy, if you use one of these designs and follow step-by-step instructions, you can build a fine truss dobsonian. But use free PLOP software (below) to design your mirror cell.
PLOP Automated Mirror Cell Optimization. This free windows software can help you design a “perfect” mirror cell. Just plug in the numbers, and in seconds, you have a mirror cell design. https://www.davidlewistoronto.com/plop/
Engineering, Design and Construction of Portable Newtonian Telescopes, Albert Highe. Do you want your next telescope to truly satisfy you? This book dedicates an entire chapter that asks you questions that help you design and build (or buy!) a telescope that will do just that. And it has beautifully engineered contemporary designs for large truss telescopes.
Engineering, Design and Construction of String Telescopes, Albert Highe. Beautifully engineered, yet challenging, ultra-light, air transportable newtonian telescope designs.
Newt for the Web (Stellafane). This is a simple, yet effective tool for newtonian telescope design. You can design an excellent telescope with just this free tool, plus old school drafting tools like ruler, protractor, pencil and compass. https://stellafane.org/tm/newt-web/newt-web.html
R. F. Royce Telescope Building Projects. Simple newtonian telescope designs by one of the finest opticians on planet Earth. The first telescope I built, a 10”f6, and the second telescope I built, a 6”f8, were both based on Royce’s designs. Both performed far beyond my expectations. In fact, the surrier-trusses for my 8”f4 design were based on the Royce design. http://www.rfroyce.com/Telescope%20Bulding%20Projects.htm Want to build your ultimate lunar and planetary telescope? Click the third link. And… considering how much you can learn from one of the world’s greatest opticians, shouldn’t you click every link? http://www.rfroyce.com/thoughts.htm
Reiner Vogel Travel Dobs. If you are interested in designing and building your own telescope, have a look at this website. You will find easy and effective construction techniques and ultralight, ultra-portable telescopes here. And big ones. You’ll find equatorial mounts and observing notes, too!http://www.reinervogel.net/index_e.html?/links_e.html
Here is my talk at the RASC, Toronto, (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) entitled, “Designing and Building a Newtonian Telescope for Wide Field Visual and Air Travel”. You can scroll the video to 38:20 if you want to go directly to my presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz7TVQkTGCM
Gordon Waite is a commercial telescope maker who has made a number of very useful YouTube videos on his grinding, polishing, parabolizing, and testing procedures. I thought some of my readers might be interested in viewing them. The link is here, or else you can copy and paste this:
I have been wrestling with this mirror for YEARS. It’s not been easy at all. The blank is only about twice the diameter of an 8″ mirror, but the project is easily 10 times as hard as doing an 8-incher. (Yes, it’s the one in the photo heading this blog!)
Recently I’ve been trying to figure it using a polishing/grinding machine fabricated by the late Bob Bolster (who modeled his after the machine that George Ritchey invented for the celebrated 60″ mirror at Mount Wilson over a century ago). That’s been a learning exercise, as I had to learn by trial and error what the machine can and cannot do, and what strokes produce what effects. The texts and videos I have seen on figuring such a large mirror with a machine have not really been very helpful, so it’s mostly been trial and error.
My best results right now seem to come from using an 8″ pitch tool on a metal backing, with a 15 pound lead weight, employing long, somewhat-oval strokes approximately tangential to the 50% zone. The edge of the tool goes about 5 cm over the edge of the blank.
This little movie shows the best ronchigrams I have ever produced with this mirror, after nearly 6 hours of near-continuous work and testing. Take a look:
And compare that to how it used to look back in September:
Part of the reason this mirror has taken so long is that after grinding and polishing by hand some years ago, I finally did a proper check for strain, and discovered that it had some pretty serious strain. I ended up shipping it out to someone in Taos, New Mexico who annealed it – but that changed the figure of the mirror so much that I had to go back to fine grinding (all the way back to 120 or 220 grit, I think), and then re-polishing, all by hand. I tried to do all of that, and figuring of the mirror, at one of the Delmarva Mirror Making Marathons. It was just too much for my back — along with digging drainage ditches at Hopewell Observatory, I ended up in a serious amount of pain and required serious physical therapy (but fortunately, no crutches), so this project went back into storage for a long, long time.
Recently I’ve tried more work by hand and by machine. Unfortunately, when I do work by hand, it seems that almost no matter how carefully I polish, I cause astigmatism (which I am defining as the mirror simply not being a figure of rotation) which I can see at the testing stand as Ronchi lines that are not symmetrical around a horizontal line of reflection. (If a Ronchi grating produces lines that look a bit line the capital letters N, S, o Z, you have astigmatism quite badly. If astigmatism is there, those dreaded curves show up best when your grating is very close to the center of curvature (or center of confusion) of the central zone.
Using this machine means controlling or guessing at a LOT of variables:
length of the first crank;
length (positive or negative) of the second crank;
position of the slide;
diameter of the pitch lap;
composition of the pitch;
shape into which the pitch lap has been carved;
amount of time that the lap was pressed against the lap;
whether that was a hot press or a warm press or a cold press;
amount of weight pushing down on the lap;
type of polishing agent being used;
thickness or dilution of polishing agent;
temperature and humidity of the room;
whether the settings are all kept the same or are allowed to blend into one another (eg by moving the slide);
time spent on any one setup with the previous eleven or more variables;