Back in action

After a long hiatus through the winter I'm back in action on the astronomy front. We've resumed work on the observatory installing the windows and door. Next step is to put the roof on - the Colorsteel should be here in about a week.

I plan to power the building with solar so recently I've been investigating solutions on that front. I've already got a couple of 75w panels lined up that I can get for free. Later this week I'll be checking out a friends off-grid home setup and after that I'll lock in my own design and start grabbing the hardware. It'll go in after I've done the roof.

The big news is that I have a dome on the way. The numbers didn't add up very well in terms of costing my own fibreglass dome so I started evaluating existing products. Options are limited at the value end of the market but there are a few products available. The biggest challenge is finding someone who can affordably ship to this part of the world as the shipping generally costs as much as, or more than, the dome itself. Unfortunately there's really no way around this issue as all homegrown dome options are in more expensive ranges. Nonetheless I've ended up committing to the purchase of a Nexdome. It's a Canadian product but there is a dealer in Australia which saves a bit on shipping costs (not as much as you'd think though). I'm hoping it'll arrive before christmas but honestly I'm not holding my breath...

Now with the dome on the horizon I've also started putting my mind towards the motorization and automation process. Dome automation products are available but like everything else in this field, they are more expensive than I'd like, so I'm thinking I'll try put together my own solution. Achieving motorization with a timing belt and pulley system (driven by a stepper motor) seems like it would be within my grasp. The challenge will be building a dome controller module to interface with the ASCOM platform. As I'll only need a handful of I/Os including usb I think something like an Arduino will do the job. This will require coding of a dome driver and firmware which is likely beyond my skills but we'll see. An appealing alternative would be LesveDomeNet which will allow me to bypass the coding steps but I'd need to locate a specific controller board and from what I can tell so far it seems to be discontinued... No clear path forward here but given more time to research options we'll see where I end up.


I haven't been able to test my scope mount since I got it back from the retailer many months ago now. All they've done is regrease the stepper motor on the dec axis so I'm doubtful there will be any improvement to the tracking issue I've been experiencing with it. At this stage I'm seriously thinking about just picking up a higher end mount and relegating this one to observation duty. When I next get a clear night I'll be out there giving it a go and we'll see what happens. That'll probably be my next update so until then...