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Thursday, May 26, 2016

ScopeDome: Paramount MyT Robotic Telescope Mount

Without a doubt, the most important piece of equipment for taking beautiful astrophotos is the mount. The mount must be reliable, extremely accurate and reliable. Did I say that the mount must be reliable? It’s the heart and soul of the entire imaging system. If the mount isn’t working perfectly, the astrophotos will show every discrepancy. Photons don't lie. The images are brutally honest and that's what makes this hobby so difficult. In the hands of a skilled and knowledgeable astrophotographer, a proper mount will yield incredible images. I’m not skilled and I have a million things to learn about this fascinating hobby, but at least I have the proper mount to get me there…someday.

The Paramount MyT robotic mount is made in the U.S.A. by Software Bisque. The special features are too numerous to list here. I’ll just summarize and say that it’s a dream come true.

Up next:  The telescope and imaging accessories

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ScopeDome: Environmental Controls

Sleeping is one of my favorite activities. Unfortunately, astrophotography prohibits getting a good night sleep. Well, that's how it used to be. Nowadays, automation provides some relief from the long hours behind the eyepiece.

Living in the mountains provide fantastic views of the night sky. However, the weather can change at a moments notice. If this happens while I'm sleeping then all of my precious equipment could get soaked. Rain and high winds can really ruin a night of photography. To solve this problem a reliable weather monitor is required. I installed an AAG CloudWatcher to monitor the clouds and wind. Along with some other programs, the CloudWatcher tells the computer that the weather is unsafe. The computer then tells the ScopeDome to close the shutter. The CloudWatcher continues to monitor the weather throughout the night. If the weather clears, the CloudWatcher tells the computer it's safe to open the ScopeDome shutter and resume taking photos. All this happens while I'm sleeping. The sensors are heated to prevent snow and ice from forming.  I'm also using a rain sensor from Fosters Systems "AstroAlert" as a backup. Dew formation is minimized by a DewBuster which is another automation tool. The ScopeDome also has environmental controls that monitor humidity and heaters to prevent the components from freezing. 

Up next...the robotic telescope mount.     

Sunday, May 22, 2016

House Renovation Continued

The renovation is well under way. The exterior has been framed. The roofers are scheduled to install the galvalume siding next week. So much has been done that it’s hard to keep up. The pictures should be self explanatory.

This is the main reason why most of this work is being done. The log is completely rotted. Several of the logs are in the same conditions. Many of the logs were removed and given to the neighbors for firewood starter. The logs that remain will be covered and protected from any moisture. Large timbers will be added for structural reasons. 

The house is basically being rebuilt. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to buy another house? Sure, but we could not find another house with this incredible view. We purchased the house for the land and not the other way around. In the end, it should all even out and we’ll have a practically new house for less than a similar new home would have cost. 

The former entryway was removed to make room for an entry that is enclosed. I'm not sure why this was not part of the original design since most homes in Japan have this feature. My guess is because the home came from Canada. 

The blue tarp is finally removed for good. We have had a leak on this side of the house since we moved in. The vapor barrier and galvalume will eliminate any chance of a leak. 

I'll conclude this post with a few pictures of the new slider window installation. 

Here's a view of the 8 x 8 timbers used to frame the window opening. This officially makes every side of the house supported with new timbers. Inagakisan did an incredible job to get everything to fit tight. 

I think Lucky was happy that the hammering was done for the day.      George

Thursday, May 12, 2016

ScopeDome: Electrical

With the dome structure completed, it’s time to add some of the electrical components. I'll give a brief description of the system as to not bore you with the details. 

First, the power supply to run the dome requires Japan voltage (100VAC) to be stepped up to European voltage (230VAC). Next, the power supply to run some of the accessories requires 100VAC (Japan) to be stepped up to 120VAC (USA). Next, the power supply to run the camera, rotator, OAG, dew heater, etc. requires 12VDC regulated. 

power supplies

Before adding anything to the pier, foam backer rod was placed between the pier and the platform. The pier is isolated from the platform to prevent vibration. Vibration is a bad thing when taking photos of the night sky. The floor will be covered with a protective, waterproof mat. This will give the interior a "finished look."

The main component of the "rotation" part of the ScopeDome is the wireless shutter controller. The controller basically runs the shutter motor which opens and closes the dome. The shutter controller receives its commands from the main controller.

Note the antenna on the left side. The entire system is wireless.

The main controller is mounted on the pier. It controls the movement of the shutter and dome rotation. It can also control the telescope mount, camera, weather monitor, and a bunch of other accessories. 

This is the dome rotation motor and home sensor. Note the wires are routed under the platform to keep the floor free of wires. 

The cable guides on the dome wall really make the wire installation simple and clean.

I decided to mount all of the stationary components on the concrete pier. How?

Look carefully...see the tiny black box on top of the pier? That's the remote control for a key chain. It's used to amaze and dazzle any visitors. Yeah, whatever.

Easy! Just build a heavy duty cover for the pier. The cover is made from 1 1/8" plywood. It's solid and has no problem handling the heavy components. The cover attaches to the platform, but not to the pier. This keeps the pier isolated from vibration. The cover is  stained flat black to reduce glare. Yes, the CCD camera is that sensitive. Plus, I think it looks cool! Now, to mount the components...

...humm, since the power supplies don't have mounting brackets, I had to make them out of aluminum angle.

Worked perfectly!

 It's starting to look like an observatory! 

One thing is missing...the telescope! It's too early for that. I need to make sure the dome powers up and the software works before the fun stuff begins. Full automation is the goal. To make that goal a reality requires a system that is reliable. Test one thing at a time and then test it again and again. If this vital step is not done with certainty, problems will occur that can be a nightmare to troubleshoot later. This is a good chance to learn the system in a logical manner. Schematics and notes also help to keep the electrical gremlins away. 

Up next...wiring to the circuit breaker box and powering up with the minimum amount of smoke.       George

Friday, May 6, 2016

ScopeDome: Putting it all together

The rain and strong winds made it impossible to make any progress. The weather finally cooperated and we could finish assembling the outer shell of the dome. The panels are huge, heavy, and awkward. With only three people to do the job, only a few pictures could be taken. Yoshikun, Erika's brother, was a tremendous help and without him it would have been impossible to complete the assembly. Thank you!

After the major components were in place, it was a matter of tightening and sealing a lot of bolts. The door and shutter were installed later.

All of the exterior seams required sealant. This completed the exterior assembly. Up next is the installation of the interior dome components.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mission Control

When my mom heard I was going to purchase an observatory she asked,” What are you going to do with it? Go into space." After some thought I came up with an answer.

When I observe with a telescope, it’s like traveling into deep space. Correction...without going into details, it's more like going back in time. The images gathered with the CCD camera provide a first hand view of distant galaxies, nebula, star clusters, and a vast array of strange and exotic stellar delights. It’s like being an astronaut capable of traveling the speed of light, all from the comfort of my living room chair.

Speaking of my living room, I installed a solid maple slab into one of the logs in my home. The maple slab came from Osaka. I trimmed, planed, and put a finished coat on it. The log was chiseled to fit the maple desk. The fit was tight enough to allow the desk to float instead of adding legs.


The area will have two computers installed. One computer will operate the dome shutter and rotation, telescope mount, CCD camera, heaters for the shutter and rotator motors, dew control heaters, focuser, webcam, autoguider, camera rotator, filter wheel, AC/ DC outlets, dome lights, humidifier, rain and wind speed detectors, cloud monitor and an assortment of astronomy software. The other computer is for image processing only. I named the work space, “Mission Control.” So, “Yes, I am going into space, sort of.”      George

Sunday, May 1, 2016

ScopeDome is here!!

The ScopeDome is finally here!!! Some assembly is required, but I plan on enjoying every frustrating step.The truck arrived at 9:30 on Saturday. Just in time for Golden Week. The driver did a great job of gently lifting the 404 kg dome and placing it exactly where I wanted it.

Within minutes I had the protective wrapping off the dome and was taking inventory of everything.

Everything was labeled and easy to identify. Good job on the packaging.

My only complaint is the amount of rust on the door hardware. I shouldn't be surprised because the obsy has been on a ship for nearly 2 months. I'll take care of the rust after the dome is assembled.

I’ll present some of the highlights of assembling the observatory. Generally, all that is required are some basic tools and mechanical ability. Some steps require up to 4 people to accomplish due to the size of the dome panels. They are huge! The assembly will be divided into three parts, the exterior, interior and the electronics. Well, let’s get started…

Base ring assembly. Now, this is fun!!

Sealant was applied and then the ring was...

...bolted down.

The rollers were wired for 200VAC. The rollers apply voltage to metal bands that run the circumference of the ring. As the dome turns, voltage is constantly provided to the rotating part of the dome. A very clean and ingenious way of reducing wire clutter.

The base ring was assembled and checked for roundness. The ring was fastened to the platform with large bolts. Then the rollers were wired for 200VAC.

Note the metal bands that provide hot, neutral, and ground to the rotating part of the dome. 

The rotating ring easily rotates with the push of one hand

 The rotating ring was assembled and checked for proper fit on the base ring.
After the base/ rotating rings were joined a simple test was performed. I checked to see if the rotating ring rotated easily with a push of a hand. It worked! I greased the rollers and added the support angles.

The eight supports prevent the dome from blowing away in a typhoon. 

 The final part of the base assembly was the cover installation.

That's it for now. Installation of the huge side panels will be next. We'll need some help with this step. Anyone interested?     George