Alston Observatory's (University of Central Lancashire UK) New PlaneWave Installation - part one

The current large aperture CDK700 telescope

The Alston observatory is located in a rural area about 7 miles from the city of Preston in the north-west of England and is the undergraduate teaching and public outreach facility of the University of Central Lancashire's (UCLAN) Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for Astronomy, Maths and Physics.

In 2015, we supplied and installed their PlaneWave Instrument (PWI) CDK700 – a 0.7m/27.5” aperture alt-azimuth state-of-the-art computerised robotic telescope. This telescope, named the Moses Holden Telescope (MHT), was their facility “centrepiece” and is one of the current largest modern robotic telescopes in the UK. You can view this telescope in an interactive 360 degree view on the University's FaceBook page and find out more about the installation on our observatory world map. In addition to this impressive telescope, they also have a historical 15" Grubb-made refractor (Wilfred Hall telescope), some smaller portable computerised telescopes and a separate teaching building which features a digital planetarium. For more information on the observatory's activities see here.

PlaneWave mount and Baader Heavy Duty Short pier ready for installation

Impressed by their current CDK telescope’s performance and ease of use, the observatory decided on the purchase of another PlaneWave Instruments (PWI) mount for their existing smaller aperture (but later-to-be-upgraded) telescope to be housed in their new 3m dome. This time the new equipment would be a PlaneWave L-350 direct drive mount on their equatorial wedge mounted atop a short Baader heavy duty pillar (BHP) with the associated levelling flange.

Discover this telescope/mount installation also on our observatory world map

Installation began on a dark and very wet Monday morning in late September – not the best weather to start any day! The mount and telescope items were gathered together and unboxed/uncrated in the observatory’s nearby teaching building ready for the day ahead. The dome already had a custom-made pier with a Celestron CGX-L mount head in place which needed to be removed. However before that was done true North/South marks were made on the floor from the mount’s alignment on the existing pillar for the new pier and PWI wedge installation later.  The existing pillar and mount were then lifted out of the observatory clearing the space ready for the new equipment. As Alston's new L-350 mount would be wedge mounted, the new Baader pier would have to be offset from the centre of the observatory towards the south to bring the mount’s declination axis to the centre of the observatory to access the zenith portion of the dome. Multiple measurements were made to mark the centre point and using results from PlaneWave's pier height and position calculator for the mount and other equipment, the pier offset distance was marked out on the floor for the Baader pier placement.

Hoisting the pier through the dome door

Their new 0.6m height pier was hoisted in and placed in position and the 4 holes drilled into the floor that would secure it. The first drill hardly went into the concrete but a heavy duty SDS drill which was “on standby” got the holes made in no time and the concrete anchors were then installed. The pier was removed and a mortar-mix was then spread where the pier would be sited for a good smooth “contact area”. We then found an issue with the floor’s top concrete layer which had to be addressed which took a short time to sort, but then the Baader pier was placed back in position and tightened down and filled with sand. The top flange of the pier was then levelled ready to accept the wedge, mount and telescope.

Marking the offset position of the pier from the centre of the observatory

Next up was the PWI wedge. The wedge, which was partly dismantled, was brought into the observatory with the wedge base being first mated with the Baader pier levelling flange, followed by the top tilt-plate portion. Finally time for “mounting the mount”! The L-350 was wheeled from the main building up to the observatory. Carefully, it was craned in and secured onto the wedge using its 6 Hex-bolts – a smooth and simple operation.

Their current telescope, a 12” SCT telescope (which will later be replaced by a larger aperture wide-field instrument), along with their new QHYCCD 600M Mono Pro cooled CMOS camera and Baader Universal Filter Changer (also to be used on the new instrument in future) was set up for installation. Putting the telescope on first followed by the camera allowed for balancing in DEC to be done and the balance point was marked on the dovetail bar for future reference.

Uncrating and partly dismantling the PlaneWave L-350 Wedge

Sadly due to the (typical UK) bad weather a few of the last remaining jobs of the installation and mount configuration including the mount modelling could not be done that day so a return trip by our UK colleague will be needed when there is the chance of an evening clear sky. A timelapse of the installation on the day can be seen below. Watch this space for a "part 2".

Pier, wedge and mount installed ready for the telescope

Current telescope added to the L-350

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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