Alston Observatory's (University of Central Lancashire UK) New PlaneWave Installation - Part 3: The DeltaRho350

Towards the end of 2021 Alston Observatory, which is the teaching and public outreach facility of the University of Central Lancashire's Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for Astronomy, Maths and Physics in the north-west of the UK had their PlaneWave L-350 direct drive mount installed atop an equatorial wedge on a Baader heavy duty 0.6m pier in their new 3m observatory dome. After it was installed a Meade 12" LX200 SCT was temporarily mounted on this system waiting for the telescope to arrive that would finally "live" on the mount.....a PlaneWave DeltaRho 350 F/3 widefield imaging cassegrain optical system - the first such PlaneWave telescope system in the United Kingdom.

In this third and final installment of the Alston Observatory telescope installation (see here for part one and part two) we outline the one-day installation of the DeltaRho 350 that took place last week.

The 3m observatory housing the PlaneWave L-350 mount and soon-to-be installed DeltaRho 350.

Arriving at Alston just after 9am and after being showed where the telescope was being temporarily stored inside the main teaching building, work began putting it all together. All the items were laid out alongside the DeltaRho 350 to check all parts were present and in easy reach. These items included the new Series 5 focuser (already attached), the Series 5 Controller (which powers and operates the telescope's rear and side fans, heated mirror anti-dew system as well as the focuser [and rotator if used]), adaptors, cables and fittings and also the observatory's existing QHY 600M PRO, BSI Cooled Camera (#1931160 , € 10050,-) and QHY CFW3-XL (#1932110 , € 1420,-) installed with 50mmx50mm Baader Sloan Photometric Filters.

The PlaneWave Delta Rho 350 with its accessories including the Series 5 Controller, Series 5 Focuser as well as the PlaneWave Tip-Tilt adjuster

The telescope, the associated PlaneWave accessories and the QHY camera and filterwheel were all attached to the telescope as if it were ready to go straight onto the mount. The main purpose of doing this was to find out where the centre of mass was located and marking this position for easier positioning of the telescope on the mount for DEC balancing. Once done it was time for a coffee before working in the observatory dome.

The first task was to remove the temporary 12" LX200 OTA and bring it inside the main building for storage. Next the DeltaRho was carefully carried to the observatory along with its accessories and the QHY camera and filterwheel . The telescope was then mounted onto the L-350 followed by all the other equipment that would be used with it where it was found that the DEC balance just needed a minor tweak but that the mount would need to be partly disassembled in order to balance in RA. An outline of this process can be read in the Part 2 of this series and took a couple of iterations to get perfect balance but once done all bolts were tightened and mount power and data cables reattached. With the DeltaRho fully assembled the next stage was routing the power and data cables through the internal structure of the L-mount and then through the pier down to the power supply outlet and to the PC. The cabling from the Series 5 controller and focuser where then tidied and secured to the top of the telescope.

The telescope and control PC were powered on and both connected without issue. Running the PlaneWave PWI4 software AutoTuner utility the mount's direct drive motors were optimised for the DeltaRho payload. Due to some problems with the (old) observatory PC a new computer running the latest version of the PWI4 software for L-series mount and Series 5 accessory control was installed and all accessories (focuser, dew control, fan and imaging system) were tested and found to be working fine.

A final inpsection around the mount and telescope was done and all tools and boxes were removed from the observatory before it was closed up for the day ready to be used under the stars on the next clear night.

The telescope near the end of the installation day

It is always a pleasure to visit and work with the staff at this observatory and the help with lifting of the heavy components by Simon Ebo during this visit was very much appreciated indeed.

We really look forward to hearing about the work and the results that this new facility at Alston Observatory will produce in the coming months and years.


About the author: Lee Sproats

Lee Sproats

Dr. Lee Sproats has been interested in astronomy since watching Star Wars in 1977 and has appeared on the UK Sky at Night TV programme. He then went on to study Astronomy where he obtained a degree and then a PhD in the subject at University College London/Mullard Space Science Laboratory. He has worked in Australia in radio astronomy and used optical/infrared telescopes on Hawaii and La Palma and Lowell and Kitt Peak observatories in the USA. After working for the University of Surrey to promote the use of computers for teaching in UK higher education and then as an IT trainer for a stock market company, he went on to work for Greenwich Observatory Ltd where he ran their northern branch and then worked for David Hinds Ltd dealing with our and Celestron products. He is often involved in flight excursions that take passengers to observe the northern lights, has led trips to see the great USA 2017 eclipse near Hopkinsville and was lead astronomer onboard a specially chartered 737 to view the 2015 total solar eclipse at 38,000ft. Lee`s astronomical interests include Lunar observing, astrophotography, photometry and pro-am collaborations.

Since David Hinds stopped operation in December 2020, Dr. Sproats works for Baader Planetarium as our UK representative/consultant and is responsible for looking after our UK/Eire dealers, dealing with Baader Planetarium/PlaneWave/10Micron product support, writing articles and also is involved in our large telescope and observatory instrumentation projects.


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