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MattJenko

iTelescope.net

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Not so much a personal equipment review, more a review of a system of equipment access.

To start off, I am stressing right now, that these experiences are my own, and reflect just my personal experience with the iTelescope system. I have been a basic plan member for a number of months now. The idea behind iTelescope.net is that you sign up to a monthly plan. You get given a certain number of points per month, depending on the type of plan chosen, which can then be used against telescope imaging time. There is a signing on bonus set of points as well. The better and more expensive the monthly plan, you not only get more points each month, but the cost of using each scope reduces, so your points go further. All points rollover each month, so you never lose them. There are also discounts based on the cycle of the Moon, so imaging during the Moon phases gives progressively increasing discounts from New to Full.

There are a host of telescopes to use, based in California + New Mexico USA, Sierra Nevada in Spain and Siding Springs in Australia. The complete list of scopes/mounts/CCDs are here : iTelescope telescopes

You create imaging plans and then reserve time on your scope of choice to execute those plans. I have attempted 15 reservations on various scopes around the world to date. I found that the system is not oversubscribed and I had very little trouble in finding reservation slots, which was one of my main worries in signing up. Here is a run down of what happened in those slots:

8 reservations never happened, as the weather was poor and the observatory stayed closed. Noone's problem.

3 reservations did not run because the target I specified was below the mount limits for the scope at that location - user error in reality, although the target was above the horizon for a couple, I didn't know how far up it has to be before the scope is configured to see it.

2 reservations completed their imaging runs, but the pointing in both cases was off and the target was either cut in half or tucked away at the bottom corner.

1 reservation managed 1 out of 3 filters before jamming and ending prematurely

1 imaging run ran to completion to finish the 2 filters from the imaging run before.

For the 2 pointing errors, I requested a refund though the website (there is a link in the email sent when the run is finished) and was granted them promptly and courteously, no quibbling. One was a explained as a bug they were addressing to do with pointing at zenith on that particular setup, the other was simply refunded with no explanation. The filter jam was not refunded as I didn't request one, as I was only charged for the successful filter set and managed to get the 2 remaining filters the next day, after the jammed filterwheel was fixed later that same day. Again, support was prompt and friendly.

All in all, I have found that while the website interface takes a bit of getting used to, the support from the team is excellent, but unfortunately for me, it needed that support as I have had lots of niggles with the various scopes I have attempted to use. All 3 issues were with different scopes in different locations. It is probably not news to those who own higher end systems I am sure, but for something that costs over 50k per rig, having basic failures like pointing and filterwheel changes is disconcerting. I will continue to use iTelescope.net, but with a basic plan, you need to save a good few months to get any kind of decent integration time on the majority of the scopes.

My image I finally managed to obtain, a few months after starting is not much of a test for the rig I ended up using, as it is an open cluster and doesn't stretch the kit too much, but here is what an FLI 16803 CCD, a PlaneWave 17" CDK on an Ascension 200HR mount can do! This is a quick 12 x 2 min each channel image. This is NGC2516, the Sprinter Cluster in Carina.

My overall impression is still a positive one, although I see this system now as much more a place to get scientific data (for small solar system object hunting and the like) where long integration times are not needed, because long reservation times on these instruments starts to get expensive quickly.

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Cheers

Matt

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A very informative review. I was debating whether or not to give this a go for when it's cloudy here. I eventually decided not to due to the expense of long imaging runs but I know a few people who use it and love it.

It's good to hear that the support structure is there too. :thumbsup:

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