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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 - April 2020

Way more than two years has 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... So that hasn't changed...

  • Adoption of Voyager as observatory control software, with CdC as the planetarium and Affinity for post-processing. Voyager is a bit of a learning curve and step away from the all-in-one nature of Maxim which just got too expensive for my pockets
  • Adoption of ASCOM ALPACA as base standard for all drivers to integrate the dome to a complete automated system. Page to come. Code is here and is all based on ESP8266-01 devices for wifi and REST access using ASCOM Remote interfaces. I have written code ( ESP8266 under Arduino), built hardware, tested and integrated devices for :
    Driver Coded HW Built Tested Integrated In Use Image
    Dome YYP
    Shutter YYP
    Filter wheel YYP
    Focuser Y
    Switch YYY
    PWM Heater YP
    SensorPack YYYY
    Aurora Y
    Encoder YYY
    ADC/Voltmeter N
    Safety YY
    Observing ConditionsYYYY
    Wind YY
    Rain YY
    Flip-Flat NY
    All Sky Camera OEMYYYAllSkyEye

    and am integrating the lot into Node-Red which is a gui-based javascript (nodejs) event processing engine with a very nice dashboard and editable nodes as event handlers.

    The ASCOM driver for observing conditions and safety are actually implemented in Node-Red . Later additions will be calls out to Amazon web services for data processing and analytics.

    If you are interested in the code and its not all on Github, then drop me a line to discuss

  • Building a CAM86 CCD camera from DSLR sensors and the Ukrainian hardware and software details.
  • Completion of 12" RC OTA in truss-tube & plywood. This was completed and then the optics were examined under double-pass collimation before sending off to John Nichol for re-figuring. - read about it here.
  • The old observatory building and dome was sold on and a second-hand 2.7m pulsar look-alike building purchased.. A new 3m square decking area was constructed to take the dome since the new building is much shorter in height than the old and I didn't want to shorten the custom pier I made. That's described in .
  • The AE Luton mount has been replaced with an EQ8 with greater carrying capacity. The old mount was built for capacity but the motors I had grafted from a Vixen Ss2K weren't man enough once fully laden. Its available for loans or offer if wanted. No drive motors currently though.
  • Rewriting of the ASCOM dome driver from VB to C# with new motor units is complete and in place in the dome. It has the occasional hiccup of losing the dome compass used to orient the dome which is wy I am wanting to replace it with either a different compass or an encoder. The code is now in github/skybadger/SkybadgerDome. It's having a minor edit at the moment to ensure that the latest code is there and some of the ascom exceptions are of the wrong type. That is being fixed as well.
  • 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). That is complete and largely unused - another available for loan or offer.
  • Construction of an adapter to fit Skywatcher cheap pole finder to Vixen Polarie - this still needs drawing up in Autocad, completed and then sold.
  • 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
  • Wifi and REST-enabled Encoder/reader
  • Wifi and REST-enabled Telescope Head-Up display
  • 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 new Vixen NA14OSF refractor - Done.

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

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 completion 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.