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Gonzo

a remote unmanned pico observatory

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After being inspired by many observatory owners on this forum and on the CloudyNights forum, I have decided to take AP to another level (well for me only) and build a semi permanent observatory.

They are many reasons for that, I just hate having to move all my gear two floors down, set it all up, freezing my a.. off, getting it all up again with rubbish results due to poor seeings.
Unfortunately as I live near Kingston upon Thames, there is no point doing it here due to excessive light pollution (and I wouldn't be allowed anyway)....
I do however have the perfect location, and that will be in Germany, quite a few miles west of Frankfurt where the in-laws live. The tiny village (so small there are no shops at all) is located in a dark site area, light pollution is almost nil (most of the street lights even get turned off at night after 11 or 12pm...).
They have an extremely large balcony which is not used much and I've been allowed to install my "pico" observatory there. I must say that there's an uninterrupted view of the sky from the balcony.
When I say pico, it will really be something tiny and fully automated (well as much as I can without breaking the bank in electronics).
In a nutshell:
custom build pier (still in the making but almost done) will be securely fixed to some concrete blocks.
EQ3-2 + AstroEQ (stepper motors with belt mod) + imaging bits and bobs + Megrez 72 (already have) or Altair Astro RC6" (will purchase for Christmas).
ROR box (which will not be higher that the balcony's handrail). I'm thinking of either the Lesvedome driver or the Foster Systems roof controller. Both are ASCOM compatible.
solar powered or main grid (they may have an outside socket on the balcony, I cannot remember).

I'm planning to build it here at home, test it first to make sure everything works correctly as planned, then dismantle it before I take it with me sometimes next year by car.

At the moment, I'm in the research phase. In terms of designing of the observatory (sketchup), powering it up, accessing it remotely etc...

I'm sure I'll have tons of questions to those with already functioning observatory.

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Wow, impressed with your intentions here. 

Can only wish you the best of luck with it.

Les

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Yes indeed :)  Good luck and please keep us informed of progress - with photos too if you can - thanks :)

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Thanks, I know it's doable. I just need to plan it very carefully hence it's going to take quite a few months before completion.

An issue I can think off right now as it's raining cats and dogs is humidity in the observatory, how do you all deal with this issue (if it's an issue at all)?

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Yes indeed :)  Good luck and please keep us informed of progress - with photos too if you can - thanks :)

Thanks Gina, I'm off to Germany for Christmas, I'll will take some pictures of where it will be located and the view I get from it.

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Impressive plan.

Playing Devil's Advocat ; what about reliability and when the system stops working?

I will be testing it over and over here before I move it to Germany, and if the system stop working I can always ask the in-laws to check a few things. Some sort of easy check list if you know what I mean.

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hope it all goes well, I remote controlled pirate for seven nights last year and it was great fun, are you using webcams to show a live feed of the scope in motion, and one facing up to look at the sky for weather.( a small weather station feed and wind detector would help.)

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If it was me, I'd design the observatory roof so that it's fail-safe.

By that I mean that if the power goes off, the controlling computer crashes or the internet stops, the roof will close itself. That may well mean the box would have its own battery - or just that the roof slides closed under gravity unless something actively keeps it open.

If it's on someone else's balcony, then it goes without saying that it must be very, very quiet in operation.

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hope it all goes well, I remote controlled pirate for seven nights last year and it was great fun, are you using webcams to show a live feed of the scope in motion, and one facing up to look at the sky for weather.( a small weather station feed and wind detector would help.)

There will be a full weather monitoring system. Rain, wind, cloud, temp etc...

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If it was me, I'd design the observatory roof so that it's fail-safe.

By that I mean that if the power goes off, the controlling computer crashes or the internet stops, the roof will close itself. That may well mean the box would have its own battery - or just that the roof slides closed under gravity unless something actively keeps it open.

If it's on someone else's balcony, then it goes without saying that it must be very, very quiet in operation.

I will try to include a fail safe system just for the roof, also the balcony is really long. Bedroom is on the far opposite of where I want to install it. But yes, I will make sure that the roof is quiet.

Been thinking today of something to secure the roof when it's windy.

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Hi Gonzo - good luck in your Pico dome in Germany. Sorry (?) to here you live near Kingston-o-T - so do I but get by with my 30cm SCT astrograph in my 5-1/2ft picodome :-)

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Hi Nytecam, just been on your website to view your dome. I don't have much space unfortunately for such dome.

I'm always open for new idea, if someone come up with a different design than a small box with roll on roof....

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Just been given the height of the handrail, 91 cm. My box should not be higher than the handrail, it can be slightly lower however.

Going to aim for 85-90cm high, and 70 to 80/85 in width (square base).

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Hi Nytecam, just been on your website to view your dome. I don't have much space unfortunately for such dome.

I'm always open for new idea, if someone come up with a different design than a small box with roll on roof....

Yeh - I appreciate my setup is probably unsuitable for your needs.  If you're 100% remote then a counter-balanced hinged box to 'expose' the scope may be all you need - apart from complete shakedown of all the systems to cope with any emergency - no small task :police:

I gave up and chose to sit it out in my picodome under the scope from my LP backyard - it suits my needs well  :cool:    

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I've found a company in South Yorkshire specialized in bespoke sheds, from garage size to tiny boxes for boots... and as they are bespoke, all I have to do is send them the dimensions and style I want :)

I'm thinking this will be way quicker and way cheaper than built it myself. I can cut wood, but I don't know enough (yet) to build a "shed" correctly.

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This is what I've picked as a box: http://broomheads-sheds.co.uk/shop/16mm-tanalised-boot-box/

obviously build with the right dimensions (they do bespoke).

Question, would you or would you not insulate the inner panels?

I'm thinking of using some Jablite insulation boards (or similar), thoughts?

Will also be installing some vents to create some sort of air flow to avoid condensation as much as I can.

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This is what I've picked as a box: http://broomheads-sheds.co.uk/shop/16mm-tanalised-boot-box/

obviously build with the right dimensions (they do bespoke).

Question, would you or would you not insulate the inner panels?

I'm thinking of using some Jablite insulation boards (or similar), thoughts?

Will also be installing some vents to create some sort of air flow to avoid condensation as much as I can.

I presumed you'd have a box with about half to a third was the lip - so that when open the scope and mount are 'exposed' and ready to go. 

Condensation in a confined space can be a problem - resolved in my dome after many years trials with a domestic fan in constant use except when imaging or in summer. 

I'd also ask for a wind/ vapour barrier over the frame before the exterior boarding is applied [i used basic roofing felt] - you can't just rely on shiplap boarding alone to keep the elements out.  Lining the walls internally with insulation board should be a benefit too. Good luck :police:

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Good shout on the "wind/ vapour barrier over the frame before the exterior boarding is applied", I will ask them to see if they can do it.

The scope in park/home position will be level to the top of the box, I will elevate the "mini roof/lead" when I place the rollers. It will increase the overall height to cover the scope. I hope this makes sense, hard to describe without a drawing (it's in my head.... lol).

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The box itself looks like this (picture it with the right dimensions... and a scope in it, instead of boots....):

tanalised-boot-box1-400x400.jpg

Still debating between a roll on roof for it or just motorising the lid.

I think the ror would be a bit excessive as the box itself is not that big realy, the roof (lid) would be quite light and could just end up in the next door neighbour's garden... I could I suppose find a way to make sure this does not happen.

Or, I could just add two linear actuator to motorise the opening/closure of the lid.

A bit like an automated smoke hatch:

43.jpg

Any other ideas?

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A few questions pop up in my mind.

How will you find your targets? Can the mount start up from cold, so to speak? ie can it make its first slew accurately enough to find an alignment star?

Does it have a reliable Park position?

Will you use some kind of fully robotic focus or will you use FWHM and an electric motor driven focuser operated at a distance?

Can you set slew limits somehow to prevent mount collisions?

Olly

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A few questions pop up in my mind.

 

How will you find your targets? Can the mount start up from cold, so to speak? ie can it make its first slew accurately enough to find an alignment star?

Does it have a reliable Park position?

Will you use some kind of fully robotic focus or will you use FWHM and an electric motor driven focuser operated at a distance?

Can you set slew limits somehow to prevent mount collisions?

 

Olly

 

>How will you find your targets?

I'm going to use Kstars or Cartes Du Ciel, they both support INDI

>Can the mount start up from cold?

At the moment, I can't say but I'll be testing this quite often.

>Does it have a reliable Park position?

I have an EQ3-2 with Astrobox and some stepper motor with a belt mod, I will also have some micro switches in place on the mount to avoid collision with the roof closing.

Will it be reliable, time will tell. Planning to do lots of testing before I install the all thing.

>Will you use some kind of fully robotic focus

Yes, stepper motor kit, fully automatic using Ekos

http://blogs.kde.org/2012/08/19/getting-focused-kstars

>Can you set slew limits somehow to prevent mount collisions?

Yes, I will implement some slewing limits as the view will be limited by the house. I will only be able to get the right slew limits once installed on site.

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How will you find your targets? Can the mount start up from cold, so to speak? ie can it make its first slew accurately enough to find an alignment star?Does it have a reliable Park position? Will you use some kind of fully robotic focus or will you use FWHM and an electric motor driven focuser operated at a distance? Can you set slew limits somehow to prevent mount collisions?

Indeed, some interesting... challenges. Food for thought definitely!

For some, I hope have personal (nearing) solutions...  ;)

But it's easier for "Video Astronomers"? Faint DSOs "on-screen" via coax! I intend e.g. to use electronic finding. A small portable screen, if really necessary? But indeed, if the initial positioning is off by "many" degrees, a different strategy! lol. Fwiw, I use a "posh" (long / fast) USB link for focusser (ALL hardware) control - In preference to e.g. TeamViewer. Budget "CCTV" monitoring, re. mount collisions. Remote controlled low-level lighting for major positional shifts. At first anyway.  :p

Matters of remote (and temporary local!) control are not entirely trivial.

Sometimes seemingly an endless but subtle consumer of time / funds... :o

Ah Well! Sounds... a fascinating / well-researched project, Gonzo. :)

Edited by Macavity

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Project is not going to be "online" for quite a few months, I will be testing it here in the UK before I transport it to Germany.

It is definitely a good challenge, and as I get more cloudy nights than clear nights here... it's going to keep me well busy over the new few months.

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