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Extraordinary 14'' Telescope.... but what is it?


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I have a habit of buying quirky stuff. This time I got the most extraordinary telescope I have ever seen.

I don't know a lot about it. It says Culham Laboratories on the tube,  and 'ARU Stellar'. It has lots of clamp rings that say 'Flight' or 'Non-Flight'. 

It is a 14'' primary, folded optical design, something line a classical Cassegrain or Dall Kirkham. Wonder if anyone here can identify it? 

The first image shows the cased tube.

The second picture shows down the telescope. Mirrors need a clean, but are in decent condition otherwise.

Picture 3 shows up its backside. It has a pretty large central obstruction.

The fourth picture shows its 'focusser'. Rather its a dovetail onto which instruments were mounted by the look of it. A fairly complicated little exit port there.

The fifth image is the telescope mounted on top of one of its case sections.

I really like restoring and giving old scopes a second life. But this is something else. The good news is that with all the metal tubing stripped away the scope itself is not too heavy (so I can probably mount it and have a hope of tracking something). I am not sure about the plan beyond that. I suspect I'll have to get rid of all the casing, since it isn't needed, and its huge. Then make a custom backplate, or adapt what is there to get a more standard amateur fitting, and a dovetail rail on it for mounting. All of these options seem possible. Bit concerned about adapting something with such a 'no expense spared' look to it with my basic metal work skills, but I'd love to give it a second life, and no point having it sat in a garage for any more decades. (reckon its from the 1980's).

Any ideas on what it is, why its was made, or what to do with it are welcomed. Think you'll agree, this one is no ordinary telescope!

Dan

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Edited by yuklop
asked a daft question!
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I knew someone once who worked there ( I think?) on an infrared project where a 14" scope was suspended under a balloon and taken aloft to get over the atmospheric absorption in the atmosphere. Guiding it must have been fun...

Edited by rl
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What is the outer casing made of? Looks like stone of some kind! Hope you can get it working- it looks very scientific and as such will likely have superb optics!

ARU seems to be Astrophysics Research Unit: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-010-3102-8_41?noAccess=true

Maybe you can contact Culham about it- they do fusion research now

https://culham.org.uk/contact/

https://culham.org.uk/about-us/

Mark

Edited by markse68
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Some great leads there. Thank you.

The tube material appears to be aluminium to me, with a textured surface, or thick textured paint. 

The IR balloon idea is interesting. Apparently this has been tried a few times over the years by different folks. You're right though... how on earth do you point it where you want to?

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Found this: https://www.nature.com/articles/physci246037a0

Note the Skylark Rocket payload used in that article was SL 1111. The sticker at the bottom of the first image says SL 1113, so it looks like it was a payload destined for the Skylark rocket program. 

This page: https://www.hep.ucl.ac.uk/history/Fox3.shtml  reference 224 talks about the UV astro group collaborating with Culham using a Skylark to launch a cassegrain telescope for UV spectroscopy.

Wonder if SL 1113 ever flew?

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1 hour ago, yuklop said:

Found this: https://www.nature.com/articles/physci246037a0

Note the Skylark Rocket payload used in that article was SL 1111. The sticker at the bottom of the first image says SL 1113, so it looks like it was a payload destined for the Skylark rocket program. 

This page: https://www.hep.ucl.ac.uk/history/Fox3.shtml  reference 224 talks about the UV astro group collaborating with Culham using a Skylark to launch a cassegrain telescope for UV spectroscopy.

Wonder if SL 1113 ever flew?

Now if you could get that officially verified might even add some value with some interesting provenance. Who knows there was a recent launch from Oz, would they be interested in using yours on the next ride? I'd imagine you'd get a nice lease/rental wedge out of it 😉 

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Posted (edited)

I'm fairly convinced that is what it is.

http://www.sat-net.com/serra/skylar_e.htm

This shows the Skylark launches. SL 1111, SL 1112, SL 1114 are all there in the 1970's. SL 1113 isn't listed.

Just noticed in that page linked above.... SL 1115 is listed twice. Reckon the 12th May 1976 should really read SL 1113!

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Thanks for that link Mark. It looks very much like that indeed. 

Edited by yuklop
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wow, surprised it never made it into a museum then really, or did the ones that flew but not your one?

Either way a piece of history which makes it even more interesting that the first pics you shared 🙂 

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12 minutes ago, yuklop said:

Maybe not though!

http://www.new-forest-electronics.co.uk/skylark mission index.htm

Again SL 1113 is missing. SL 1115 is listed twice, the second one with an A on. Wonder what happened to SL 1113

 

might be worth contacting the author and see if they have and records/details, they may even be interested in some pics for their website.

I noticed there's no apparent progression of sequence numbers vs dates in that some earlier launches used higher sequence numbers, a bit odd maybe?

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14 hours ago, yuklop said:

Some great leads there. Thank you.

The tube material appears to be aluminium to me, with a textured surface, or thick textured paint. 

The IR balloon idea is interesting. Apparently this has been tried a few times over the years by different folks. You're right though... how on earth do you point it where you want to?

By hanging the telescope under the balloon  in an altaz frame and using reaction wheels to control pointing alignment and one or more star trackers to know where you are pointing. I helped assemble one of those while doing my PhD in IR astronomy at UCL. They were old hat then and superceded by Iras and iso. Then balloon astronomy got coopted into top of atmosphere particle physics. 

That scope looks a bit large for that though. 

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I did contact Robin at newforestelectronics.

He said form the pictures it was certainly a skylark section. He will check his records when he gets back from a break. 

I also noticed last night that one of the bits says SL972. That one did fly with an Xray astro experiment. The telescope I have wouldn't be much use for Xray. I guess they may have reused parts? Or perhaps more likely I have acquired an odd assortment of Skylark bits! 

The sticker says SL1113, the white pen mark near the sticker says SL 1111 and the most purposeful mark says SL 972. 

Fascinating whatever it ends us being.

 

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For completeness:

I messaged Robin Brand, who wrote the book on Skylark systems... his reply was very thorough and shown below.

I think we can consider this case closed. From no idea, I now have a very clear idea of what it is and I can move onto the challenge of mounting it. It isn't too heavy for a 14''. Which still means its really heavy, so some nerves here that I'll actually mount it properly. I can take off the main visual back which is a really heavy piece of metal, and replace with a polycarbonate one, which'll do until such time I get a nice aluminium 5 spoke thing machined one day. This will save 10kgs or so. And mount a losmandy d-plate on with 4 M8 bolts and it should be good to go. Once I've got it mounted and tested it'll focus etc, then the mirrors really need a recoat... but no screaming hurry for that.

Robins Reply:

Regarding your Skylark SL1113 query, I've now had a chance to check my records, and the short answer is that it does appear to be a prototype experiment from Culham that never flew, and indeed that I have not come across before, so it really is most interesting.
In more detail, as the correspondence in your thread has correctly identified from various sources, there was an SL1112 launched in November 1975, and also an SL1114, SL1115 and SL1115A launched in 1976 and 1977, (see p.603 attached), so it must be of that era. The way the system worked, was that batches of SLxxxx numbers were issued and assigned, but vehicles/experiments could be launched out of numerical order if one was delayed during development, or perhaps not launched at all, if there were major technical or funding issues, as appears to have been the case with SL1113. Perhaps it was based on that of SL1004 (pp. 449-451 attached).
The difficulty here is that if an experiment failed  to work, or even worse was never launched, then no scientific paper or (if no launch) trials documentation would result, i.e. nothing would be formally released, so info is difficult to find.  However "Culham" (the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Laboratory in Oxfordshire) were one of the largest users of Skylark, as the Sun was a useful fusion source to study, and my book includes some 60 references to them. (In particular, page 245 of my book refers.)
So what appears to have happened here is that the development of the payload for SL1113 started, and was mounted into left-over non-flight body segments from SL1111 and SL972. (The designation "ARU Stellar) on one of the fine photos you posted must indeed refer to the 'Astrophysics Research Unit" of Culham - my book page 610 attached tries to untangle their complicated history.)
Telescopes - it was surprising what could be accommodated in the 17.5" vehicle diameter, see page 268 attached. (And in the pre-digital age, the inherent sounding rocket ability to return photographic film to Earth was a big advantage over orbiting satellites, the ability which otherwise was only really practical with manned spaceflights.)   
And talking of the Skylark body sections, these were made of 'magalloy', a lightweight structural magnesium alloy, which 'weathers' as your example. (These formed the basis of a useful 'Lego' type construction system, in which sections could be clamped together to build bespoke launch vehicles.)
Anyway, I've gone on long enough, and hope the above is of some help and interest. My book I refer to is the standard work on Skylark "a readable work of reference" - (http://www.new-forest-electronics.co.uk/skylark-book.htm ), which includes lots on the pioneering UV & X-ray astronomical experiments flown.  And would your group be interested in a talk on the more general history of Skylark? - I do have a presentation which is astronomically oriented & which I have given to several societies, which can be in person if within reasonable distance, or alternatively online. (http://www.new-forest-electronics.co.uk/skylark%20events.htm)

 

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And here it is mounted. With 25kg of counterweights.

Will check I can focus on something, and assuming that goes ok, then I need to fit a focuser and recoat those mirrors and its done.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I followed this thread with much interest and whilst reading a book about the history of astronomy I came across a picture and the name rang a bell. 
Skylark…..???……. SGL thread. 
The book is a 1972 print of The Story of Astronomy by Patrick Moore.A5488773-66DC-403A-B60D-9933247149DE.thumb.jpeg.44c3ac5c2b8f3298f93d3875ab286970.jpeg

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#yuklop has the skinny on this via his connection with the man that ‘wrote the book’. Thankfully that connection and written record is there.👍🙏

I just thought breaking copyright law for the benefit of this thread was beneficial.

I will gladly turn myself in as the cost of electricity is beyond me now. I hear they cover that when inside?

Marvin

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