Observatory Time Line

April 2011

We move to a better location.  Our prior home had nowhere to permanently set up a scope.  The new house is not perfect, but after looking for several months it does meet the basic requirements we set and has room for an observatory.  It is outside of town in a small subdivision, there is no one to our east and there are minimal light issues.  We have about 1 acre to play with, unfortunately there are a lot of trees in the way and I am now in an HOA. 

May 2012

After getting most of the other projects done - a wood shop, new hot tub, RV parking, etc., it is time to start exploring the observatory options.  I find out who the chair of the HOA Architectural Committee is, turns out he's my neighbor (he has an observatory under construction), and have a couple over-the-fence chats with him and his wife about my building an observatory.

Summer 2012

I spend the summer perusing various vendors and options.  I initially want a fully automated dome  - I do intend to image from the warmth of the house when its cold out - and Technical Innovations is my preferred choice.  When I add up the cost it is a ways over $20k for a 10 foot dome.  Hmmm, do I really need full automation with an observatory in the backyard?  I mean it's only a few moments to run out and open/close it.  Eliminating the automation brings it down to just over $17K, still more than I really want to spend.    How about a classic roll-off roof?  Looks good, I figure that I could do it for around $5K.  The only drawback is the total lack of wind protection, have I mentioned that on the Colorado front range wind is a fairly constant issue? 

I keep going back to SkyShed's web site and learning about the SkyShed POD.  At first I didn't include it as an option due to it's size, 7.5 feet, as I think I need a 10 foot dome.  However, the more I looked at it, had a few e-mail exchanges with the company owner, Wayne, and mull it over it begins to look like not only a viable option, but probably my best option.  It will be snug, but I will mostly operate from inside the house.  It is a clamshell design constructed of double walled polyethylene.  You have roughly a 180 degree view of the sky, with the clamshell providing wind protection.  It doesn't protect as well as a conventional slit dome, but with an observatory in the backyard I can arrange to image in a direction that I have wind protection.  In other words, I don't have to get a particular image set tonight, I can image something else, and come back to my original target on a later night when the wind is coming from a different direction.   And, ShyShed does make a slit insert for the POD if you must absolutely have the maximum wind/light protection.  They also have an option to slide the entire dome off the structure, turning it into a roll-off roof observatory if you need to image across the zenith.  I estimate a $5-6K final cost, the POD is $3000 + 1000 shipping, the platform will run $1000 or more depending on what I contract versus doing myself.

Sept 2012

 I've spent a couple evenings in the backyard looking for a good location for my observatory and how high I need to build it.  My favorite location is right over the septic field.  Not a big problem, but with my luck I would drill right through a line with the piers...  And if the field ever needed reworking the observatory would be hosed.  I end up with my secondary location, a couple feet height and I can see over my shed and the neighbors shop, can see Polaris, but it may be a challenge to image anything as far south as Sagittarius.   To the east there is a spruce tree blocking some sky, but the west isn't too bad.  Maybe as dry as this last winter & summer were I will loose the problem trees, or not.  Wife won't let me remove any live ones, golly, there's only like about 30 trees on our 1 acre lot.

I finalize my plans with a SkyShed POD XL5 - 5 equipment bays - on a 12x12 platform not to exceed 30 inches off the ground (code requirement to negate handrails).  I will include the Pod Zenith Table so I can slide the dome off and have full access to the sky when needed.  I think I will pour a 10" concrete pier all the way up to the mount and eliminate the additional expense, and possible vibration, of a steel pier on top of the concrete pier.  

17 - I hand-deliver the plans I've put together, along with a cover letter, to the Architectural Committee.   He calls a couple days later to set up a meeting and says there won't be any problems.

27 - The meeting with the committee went as expected; there were no objections and I walk out with a signed approval.  Turns out half the committee has scopes and they all want to come play with the observatory when its up and running.

28 - A SkyShed POD XL-5, all in Discovery White, is on order.  I added the insulation & bay lining, three shelves and the Pod Zenith Table.  With the add-ons it comes to just under $5k with shipping.  A quick estimate from Lowes on deck material is right at $1k, so I will be close to my original $5-6k estimate.

Oct 2012

1 - Wayne sends me an e-mail that they can't insulate white walls.  Hmm, didn't think of that.  I opt for the Desert Tan walls.

18 - Construction is underway.  Info and Pics

28 - Piers are in the ground.  

30 - Wayne emails and says the POD is on its way!!

Nov 2012

1 - Platform is finished, came in just under 1k so I am still on budget.  Old Dominion trucking called to schedule delivery of the POD, it will be here Thursday.

8 - POD is here!  Cold and snow this weekend, and probably for months to come.

15 - POD is assembled on the platform.

18 - First Light!!  Was cloudy last night so I went to bed and got up at 0300 this morning.  32 degrees and mostly clear.  Took about 5 minutes to get a rough polar alignment with the polar scope, then I hit M-43 for the first target.  Came within an eyepiece field of being there, not bad for no calibration or refined alignment.  Seeing was absolutely horrible, everything was swimming in the eyepiece at 60x.  Synced the mount to M-43 then punched in Jupiter and hit it right on.  Seeing was so bad I couldn't make out the bands except for very brief flashes.  Went back to M-43 and hit it right on.  Spent a while just sitting and looking, then played with the mount for a while, its been over a year since I had it running and needed to refresh myself on its operation.

Went in for some coffee and noticed a neat opportunity for a pic of Venus at sunrise.

Finished the electrical yesterday.  Need to do some tweaking to the dome rotation, put in the flooring, and arrange things to my liking.  It is a very snug fit in the dome with the scope moving and my warm woolies on, have to pay attention where things like counterweights are at or heading to.  There is actually more room on the counterweight side of things than on the scope side.

21 - I am declaring this critter operational!  Still some minor items to take care of, but I can now resume playing scope god.

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