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Welcome to the Skybadger astronomical pages.

This website is to record an interest in astronomy and share the results.

The background page attempts to explain why I am interested in astronomy and provides a potted history of astronomy experience and publications.

The equipment page more fully describes the equipment I have, its limitations and why I use it. The biggest downside to astronomy as a hobby is that it can be very expensive, especially if you haven't got the time, the skill or sometimes the equipment to make parts you need, you have to buy, beg or swap them ....


News - May 2015

Two years have passed since the last update to this front page yet lots have still happened. There remains a bundle of projects going on at Skybadger at the mo, which gets the attention depends on the weather and the effort required...

  • The old observatory building and dome was sold and a second-hand pulsar building purchased at 10' diameter. A new 3m square decking area was constructed to take the dome since the new building is much shorter than the old.
  • Extension of the Laurie Yates SS2K ASCOM driver to support selecteable drive rates and thus the ASCOMPAD wireless gamepad controller.
  • Rewriting of the ASCOM dome driver from VB to C# with new motor units is ongoing.
  • The Horseshoe 12" telescope was shown at the Basingstoke AS open night giving great images of Jupiter despite being out of collimation.
  • Construction of gearbox for Horseshoe telescope. This is also now complete bar fitting of the drive motor with drive pinion. I also re-engineered the support wheels to timing pulleys taking a drive band for better engagement and less cogging using needle bearings for smoother running.
  • Fitting of a focuser, primary baffle and complete refurb of 6" f/10 Cassegrain (ex-UCL)
  • Construction of an adapter to fit Skywatcher cheap pole finder to Vixen Polarie - this still needs drawing up in Autocad.
  • Construction of 12" Cassegrain OTA in truss-tube & plywood. This is practically complete - read about it here: here
  • RA and Dec Readout project using LCD and encoders - this is half done- the brains of the readout is where time is being spent now.
  • Servo motor controller for Horseshoe telescope drives - largely done since it uses historic pic code
  • Encoder embedded reader
  • Magnetometer using PIC and Speake and Co Fluxgate sensor - coding and assembly done- waiting for test & offset calibration.
  • Replacement of the Telescope mounting plate with an Altair Telescope Mounting System plate specifically to carry a a new Vixen NA14OSF refractor - Done.
  • Photography season - Jupiter 2014/15

Construction is now complete of the large split ring horseshoe mount intended for big-aperture (16") observing. It's currently mounted with the 12" Newtonian OTA and optics - the mirrors are from the Worthing Observatory Telescope which they replaced with a Lottery-funded Meade.

The horseshoe was satisfactory but 'cogged' on the small roller wheels supporting the circle which felt like the bearings. So I replaced the wheels with pulley wheels bored out to take needle bearings giving a longer bearing length and using the timing pulley smooth side to support the circle face giving a longer drive surface. The new gearbox pulls the belt tight and drives it through a DC gearmotor down-geared 16:1 from 60rpm. Replacing the top end secondary mirror holder with a shorter one and replacing the Crayford focuser with a non-rotating helical focuser also saved a lot of weight which means it balances at the scope end now very nicely.

See the details so far here

2014/15 imaging season has been primarily about imaging of Jupiter during the opposition with a new ASI120 mono camera and LRGB filters using eyepiece projection on the Vixen refractor and 8" Cass. Find the images in the imaging->Planets section

I have also been taking some DSLR images of the more obvious Messiers while I get to grips with the colour conversion from Nikon NEF in RGB to colour JPEG for display. To make life easier I bought an Off-Axis Guider of the Orion adjustable type from Bern at Modern Astronomy and machined a custom adapter for the Visac to allow the camera to reach focus on the Visac with the DSLR and Visac focal reducer. News: I replaced this recently with a Telescop Service ultra-thin one - it removes all the back-focus distance problems I was having.

Older Work

Projects completed a while ago to be found in the website are:

  • The raising of the new observatory pier. I have completed a massive new steel telescope pier and successful removal of the old one from the observatory requiring a full observatory strip-down and rebuild.
  • The competion and first run of a M-O-M Mirror making machine used for grinding a 6" first mirror..
  • The system requirements and design for a Telescope system controller consisting of motors, encoders, handset, telescope pointing model and PEC.
  • The ASCOM dome automation pages under the techniques section to finish off the record of the Skybadger observatory automation. .
Cleaned up mount Mount on observatory pier-wide view Mount on observatory pier - full view Mount on observatory pier - left view

The old Astro Systems of Luton Mount purchased from MikeMS which was to be the basis of my long term heavyweight telescope mounting capability is now complete, tested and mounted on the pier in the observatory.

More details with pictures here

Projects in Astronomy include:

  • After swapping the Newtonian Mount and OTA with MikeMS for a MoM mirror grinding machine in an almost completed state, I have fixed it up, completed it, varnished it and have completed a 6" trial mirror to the polishing stage. along the way I needed to make a spherometer, mirror mount for testing, foucault tester and light source. There are some pictures:
    Mirror grinding platter - tool on top while grinding Mirror grinding tool - Edge-on tile and concrete tool on top Mirror grinding small platter - tool on top showing clamps Mirror grinding small platter - tool on top showing routing of clamp nut retaining slots. Mirror grinding tools - beam spherometer showing adjustable spacing & bearing feet Mirror grinding tools - beam spherometer showing adjustable spacing & bearing feet Foucault tester and light source

  • I have removed the pan-and-tilt webcam and am replacing it with a low-light wide-angle camera for monitoring the inside of the observatory. Try here for a streamed media feed, if turned on.

  • Implementing the thermal scanning cloud camera on the observatory. The housing and panning mechanism is in place now. I can control and query it via VBScript here or there is the tool from DevaSys to create an image. This goes with the Devantech USB to I2C Adapter for easy Comm port access to the I2C bus. The next step is wrap this up in more script and make it create colour images from the output.

  • Logging the magnetic compass field data and comparing with published magnetic field data to check whether I can use this data as an aurora alert meter.
    These results are now in and the answer is yes - if you can a sufficiently stable power supply. I'm using two 6V/3AH batteries in series to give 12V and +/-6 off a 5W solar panel and tend to get good results for a few days and the n during the day only after that as the batteries have emptied their own charge. See this page for some results : Results from a I2C robotics magnetometer

  • Changing the GP-DX drive gearing from 1:1 off the motor to 1:2 off the motor. This gives increased torque at the worm for driving heavier loads. The SS2K controller has had its speed settings increased appropriately to adjust. See the above picture for details. The gears are HPC 84:42 teeth Mod 48 in steel. The boss needs to be a tight 6.0mm fit. I took a normal gear which has a 6.4mm boss and bored it out for a new boss.


Updated pictures from Noctilucent clouds, some of the familiar Messiers and lots of Jupiters.

I have just purchased a set of 12.5" Cassegrain optics from Paul through AstroBuySell. this will be nmy next project once the split-ring is complete, and mounted on the AE mount in the obervatory. Lots to learn about baffling a Cassegrain but far cheaper than say, buying a Vixen VMC300.