Everything back and together again

My Custom Skywatcher 130PDS on Darkframe tuned HEQ5.

Well today the mount came back from DarkFrame and I got the chance to put everything back together for the first time since the recent upgrades.
I am over the moon with how everything has gone back together and tonight I also added the ADM saddle that originally came with the mount (now I have larger dovetails). This should help to give some extra stability as well as enable me to use different scopes in the future. The upgrades have added a little extra weight to the system, I am not too worried as everting is still very much within the weight limits  of the mount. The counter-weights are now located further up the bar compared to before so should actually be better in terms of reducing Inertia in the mount. I have had a slight set back with the new camera in that the T2 Adaptor that I purchased for some reason does not fit, this is being sent back and I have another on the way along.

I can now give you a little more information in regards before and after tuning. Before I go any further I would like to say just how impressed I was with David and Darkframe, I would highly recommend him to anyone. I have been keeping in touch with him through the entire process and he has been more than forthcoming in regards to answering any questions that I had.

The standard HEQ5 Pro Synscan even in its standard form is very good mount however there a few things that we have to consider.
This is Chinese mount that retails for around £750 when new. Now this sound like and is a lot of money however, when compared to other mounts that are out there this is actually at the cheaper end of the market and represents very good value for money.
The mount in its standard form has been tested and will give an average unguided RMS of 20 – 30 arc-seconds and around 3 arc-seconds with a guided setup. Now in imaging terms this equates to an average or around 10 – 40% dropped frames at a maximum of 900 second exposures (at around 530mm) in a guided setup.

This is where Darkframe comes in. Darkframe offer a hyper-tuning service that includes a number of modifications and a few that are unique to them.
The full service includes a popular belt drive modification but also a hybrid ceramic bearing setup which was developed by them.
When you add up the cost of a standard set of upgraded bearings (£50 – £80), the belt drive modification (£100) and the average home tuned mount performance this starts to look like a very good price indeed. The question is how does does the darkframe service really compare?

Darkframe are one of the few companies that actually test mounts and even better publish their data.
A HEQ5 once tuned by them has been tested to give an average unguided RMS of between 3.5 – 6 arc-seconds and as low as 0.9 arc-seconds in a good guided setup. When it comes to imaging that can equate to a little as between 0 – 10% dropped frames at a maximum of 3600 seconds (tested at around 500mm). One thing I would like to make clear here is that every single mount and setup is different and there are number of factors that have to be taken into consideration when looking at these figures (weight on mount, mount age, seeing conditions, polar alignment and focal length etc…). David spends a LOT of time working on and testing every single mount him self until he is happy with the final result. If you would like more information and data regarding the HEQ5 and other mounts or the tuning services that he offers take a look HERE.

To say I am happy with the mount so far is an understatement. I have not had a chance to get it out under the stars yet and test it however just from the difference in feel and the way the mount reacts and moves is a massive improvement over the standard setup. One thing that I have also noticed is the noise, or lack of. The belt drive cuts down on a lot of this but the tuning that is done really does take it to another level. The mount is quieter, smoother and a lot more rigid. The original mount setup has a fair amount of play and backlash in it, not any more,

I will be updating with further findings and test results as the weather permits.

New Camera DIY

Well the camera that I purchased arrived yesterday after a delay due to the weather.
My intension from the start with this camera was to modify it for astrophotography. There are a number of ways that this can be done but they all have their plus and minus points.
I wanted to still retain the ability to focus at infinity with lenses as well as with a telescope which meant either going down the clear filter route or using the Baader filter which would also act as a UV/IR filter. Due to the cost of a dedicated UV/IR filter along with a clear filter I went with the Baader as this does two jobs at once but is not a full spectrum modification like the clear filter version.

I set about stripping the camera down which actually is not as hard as you would think as long as you take your time.  As with anything like this I would advise anyone doing this uses some kind of Antistatic mat and wrist strap. As you can see in the corner of the photo there is a sheet with all the screws put into sections and held down with tape, this makes life a lot easier when you come to put it back together and also prevents loosing any if knocked.

After replacing the required filter and allowing the glue to dry I then put everything back together. At this stage I began initial testing to make sure everything was working and due to the design of the sensor on the 600D I also have had to make sure that the sensor is aligned and flat.
The first test proved that everything was working however I could not get infinity focus, for telescope only use this would not be a problem but I wanted to use standard or adapted lenses as well. I have since stripped the camera down again and adjusted the float screws slightly on the sensor and retested it. At this stage everything is working and looks to be aligned, I am now also able to focus at infinity.
For testing I used a standard 50mm f1/8 that I borrowed.

The final test is going to be a star test, close inspection is required of the centre and all four corners making sure that there is no tilt in the sensor.
I will post an update once I get a chance to do the final test. For anyone looking for more information on doing this please get in touch or take a look here.

 

The right tool for the job

Over the last few weeks I have been in somewhat of a battle with myself in regards to my current imaging setup.
I have been using the Fuji X System for a few years now and for “daytime” photography it is an outstanding system.
The low light capabilities are fantastic and the new Fuji XT2 has taken it a step further, so whats the problem?

There are two issues at play here, lack of support in regards software and also the X-Trans Sensor (more on this in a second).
Using the the Fuji X System for astrophotography is not as easy or anywhere near as flexible as some of the other brands. The lack of software support at the capturing stage as well as the processing stage makes the whole task a lot harder and lot more time consuming than it needs to be. One of the major disadvantages is the lack of direct software based camera control and no SDK available for third parties to be able to interface with the system in any way.

The other issue is the sensor that is used. The simple fact that there are fewer red and blue pixels really has the ability to hamper the ability to capture data as well as a traditional bayer array. Under normal daytime photography this is not an issue but when you are attempting to capture areas that are for example high in Ha the lower number of red pixels could have an effect on the overall response and sensitivity (Further investigations into this are going to be needed).

The spectrum response of the Fuji XT2 is better than the XT1 but is still hampered by the UV/IR cut and colour correcting filters. Due to the wide spectrum response that they typically block this also hampers capturing Narrow band data such as Ha even further.
Traditionally this is the reason why cameras are modified for astrophotography, the filters are either removed or replaced with specialist filters that do not block these and the camera can pass through 4 or 5 times the amount that it could before the modification (This is not unlike the modification that is done for Infrared conversions).

I had originally thought about going down the dedicated CCD route but the costs are a real factor and more so if going down the route of a mono setup with filters.

After a little more research and speaking to a few people I have made the decision to do something that I never thought I would be doing again, buying a Canon.
Canon DSLRs have by far the best software and hardware support and also once modified are very capable imaging systems.
APS-C Canon DSLRs are also a lot cheaper and although the Noise and High ISO performance is not as good on some of the older models, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce this and once stacked the noise really is pretty impressive.
Although newer models can be used and converted there are a number of older models out there that perform very well and are actually highly regarded and recommended.

Last night I picked up one such canon at a very good price and over the next week will be converting it and making the modifications required. I will also be taking a closer look at the software options and how these can be used to automate workflow as well as cut down on processing and reduce both luminance and colour noise. Some of these techniques I already use however there a few that due to current limitations in the Fuji system mean its not possible. Something I am also currently exploring and may be looking into depending on time and cost is to create a cooled camera setup to reduce noise even further.

There was also a slight delay in my mount coming back however I have been informed that it should be back with me the end of this week. This is something I will also be going into further.

Keep an eye out over the coming weeks for further updates.

Laptops and Night vision

I got a cheap secondhand laptop a few weeks back that I could dedicated to telescope control and imaging.

One thing I had forgot to get when ordering a few things was a red screen for viewing the laptop at night.
I began looking around to see if there was another solution without having to re-order for such a small item.

I came across a very nice free peace of software by the name of f.lux (website and download here).

f.lux setup running in night mode
f.lux setup running in night mode

f.lux changed the screen according to the time of day to make viewing during the evening an at night less stressful on the eyes.
It quickly become apparent that it could also be used to go one step further.
Once installed I enabled to extended function which  requires a system restart but this then allows for the Kelvin to set a lot lower than default.
Setting this down to its lowest setting and reducing the brightness of the screen gave a very pleasing result.

A few people have tested this over the last few days and are very happy with it. If you are using a laptop for control but currently do not use a red screen this may be something that you may want to take a look at. If you have calibrated your screen this may not be the solution for you as it will change the screen depending on the time of day, however for a dedicated or non calibrated screen its a better way of viewing at night. I have only used the windows version but there are also versions for Mac, Linux and Android as well.

Latest Lunar Mosaic – 48 Panels

Just before sending the mount of to be hypertuned I managed to get one last session in.
This was my biggest challenge yet and apart from a single panel I am pretty happy with the result.
Normally I would only create a mono image but decided in this instance to keep the colour.

This was made up of 48 panels, each processed and then stitched to create the final image.

2016-10-09-1941_5-rgb_g4_ap51_drizzle15_stitch

 

 

DIY Guide rings and the third screw

Having previously made a more stable mounting solution for my guide scope I have since found that I needed to take it to the next level.
A decent set of guide scope rings from what I have seen cost around £80 – £100 and not something I was prepared to pay.
The main reason behind wanting a better solution was so I could align the guide scope with my main scope and enable me to platesolve targets.

I set about doing a bit of research and found a number of different DIY solutions so decided to have a go at making a set myself.

Guide scope and rings completed
Guide scope and rings completed Skywatcher 9×50 guide scope and QHY5L-IIM Camera

A quick search on ebay resulted in my buying a section of Aluminium tube, the best part here was that the company offered a free cuttiing service.
I ended up purchasing a 100mm section with 10mm walls, 70mm outside diameter and requested they cut two 20mm sections for me.
A few days later this arrived as stated and was ready to start working with.

At this stage I employed the help of a good mate who let me borrow a drill press and a few taps.

I marked and drilled three holes for each of the bolts and a fourth to mount the ring to the dovetail bar.
The three bolt holes on each ring then got tapped using an M5 tap and the fourth was a 1/4″ Tap to match the holes on the skywatcher dovetail bar.
One everything was tapped I then gave the rings a quick going over with fine sand paper to get any sharp edges off and cleaned everything with Isopropyl Alcohol.
I used M5 Stainless steel bolts to prevent rusting and hold better than normal nylon bolts found in some of the cheaper guide scope rings that I had looked at.
The rings are then bolted to the dovetail using 1/4″ Hex bolts.

A simple Guided DSLR setup.
A simple Guided DSLR setup.

This should give me ample scope for adjustment and I can honestly say is as solid as a rock. For reference the Scope is a skywatcher 9×50 finder scope with a QHY5L-IIM camera, everything needed for this including the adaptor to mount the camera can be at Modern Astronomy who I highly recommend.

Whilst I was at it I also decided to create a setup that I was able to use without the telescope for guiding a DSLR. Drilled an extra hole towards the rear of the dovetail
Large enough for an M10 Bolt. This has enabled me to mount a Ballhead at the rear of the guide scope and attach a DSLR and lens.
This I am hoping to use for imaging a wider focal lengths than I could with the telescope but still retain the ability to guide.
In total the entire cost of making the guide rings was around £15 including the Alu tube section and bolts. Additional costs would be involved if you wanted to setup the guided DSLR ring but again would not cost the earth and would not total more than £50 depending on the ballhead.

 

One of the other issues that I have faced since day one is camera tilt. As standard the standard focuser although very good only has two screws holding the camera

cof
cof

and coma corrector in place. I have to be very careful when attaching these otherwise I get a small amount of tilt in the imaging train that shows up in the resulting images. I had looked to see about getting a replacement such as a clicklock or something but there seemed to be very little around.

A ended up going down the route of adding a third screw to the standard adaptor instead. The standard bolts are perfectly fine for the job however they are very small a not easy to turn with cold fingers or gloves.
A quick search on ebay and a few days later a set of better M4 bolts arrived with larger knurled tops. These are large enough to be able to grip a lot easier but not so big that they get in the way of anything.
I drilled and tapped a third hole and everthing is complete.

The third screw I can tell streight away has made a massive difference and mating the camera and coma corrector to the focuser tube is now a lot easier and with no tilt at all.

I will post an update in regards to how the guide scope rings perform once I get a chance to get out and test them and all being well will also be able to give a bit of a more in-depth look at platesolving as an alternative to star alignment.

 

Fettling and Flocking

As stated in an earlier post I have sent my mount off to be hypertuned.
There had been a number of things that I have thought about doing come next summer however with the mount being sent away I decided to bring the timeline forward and get them done.

One of the first things that I had wanted to do is flock the scope. As standard the scope is already pretty good and is lined with a matt finish paint.
I had on a number of occasions whilst collimating notice just how reflective this coating still was and even more so the focuser tube.
Knowing that I would have to strip the scope down to its bare compoinants I also decided to double check the focuser collimation and the centre spot on the primary mirror.

The first task was to strip down the scope. This actually turned out to be pretty easy and the only issue I had was getting the primary mirror cell out as it was wedged in fairly tight. Once everything was stripped down it became even more apparent just how reflective the standard coatings are on the tube and focuser.

img_20161020_2023461The first step once stripped was to wipe down the entire surface with Isopropyl Alcohol to remove any residue either from manufacturing or from dust from imaging.
You can see from the image just how reflective the coasting are and even more so the silver on the outside of the focuser tube.

Now there seems to be somewhat of a debate in regards to what you should use to flock the scope. The main goal is getting something that stays together so to not end up with tiny fragments of the material over time. One of the suppliers that I have come to trust recently is First Light Optics. I found that they also sell flocking material by the roll at a very reasonable price (See Here).
Given that the tube is not the largest I quickly opted to line it in strips. I cut the strips and lined the tube allowing a small gap between each section to allow for expansion and contraction. Once complete I set about cutting out all the holes with a scalpel blade and gave the tube a good hoover to get rid of any fragments that may have come loose during the cutting process.

 

There wimg_20161021_0157171as a  very viable difference once completed and I actually used less than a single roll doing the
entire tube. The next phase was to flock the focuser tube and black out everything else that mattered.

This took two different approaches. The focuser tube on the outiside a silver finish and a matt finish the same as the scope on the inside.
The focuser tube runs on runners and I did not want to impede these so opted to flock up to the runners and then black out the small remaining strip with a black sharpie.
After measuring the inside it was clear that there was also more than enough room to be able to flock the inside of the tube. Again this was done in strips up as far as the threads at the end.

This made a massive difference and I can see this really helping with stray reflections and brighter targets.

img_20161021_0156361

The next step was one of the parts that I was in two minds about doing, the primary and secondary mirror.
I opted to not flock the back and sides of the seconary but instead black them out again using a few coats with a black sharpie. Trying to get the flocking material at the right size and shapes was not something I wanted to tackle and the sharpie worked fine. The primary mirror once in the housing did not seem to have too many issues so I opted to leave this at least for now.

 

 

 

dscf1100The next step was to check the centre of the primary mirror spot and it also quickly become clear that I needed to do something that puts the fear of god into even some of the most experienced people, cleaning the primary mirror.
I had already done a bit of research on this and decided to use a combination of two different approaches to get a clearer picture of things.
The first was to draw around the primary mirror and then cut it out and make a small circle in the centre to give me the centre of the cell.
The second was using a photographic approach. Both came out with pretty near the same conclusion, the centre spot was out by around 2mm.
I had already worked this into the project and ordered a replacement centre spot at the same time as ordering the flocking material.
You can see from the state of the photo just how far out the centre spot is and the condition of the primary mirror.

I first marked the centre spot using the circular template I had made and then set about removing the original centre spot.img_20161021_0154321
The entire processed that I followed came from a popular you-tube video on the subject (see here).

I set about with some acetone (Nail varnish remover) and slowly worked at the centre spot to remove it. the standard centre spot came off pretty easy but being very careful not to remove the new centre mark I had made. Once this was done I then cleaned the surrounding area again with Acetone and applied the new and improved centre spot (more about this further down)
The next step was cleaning. I used to own a Marine aquarium and just happen have had an RODI machine setup. this is what I opted to use instead of the standard distilled water. The issue I have with any kind of water like this is that its very quick to take contaminant form the air around it and the container its held in. The RO water that I used came out with a 0 TDS and is about as pure as you can get (as used in labs).
After cleaning the mirror as described in the video and giving it a good rinse I allowed it to dry.
At this point the focuser was put back on and checked for correct collimation and the scope put back together.

I was lucky enough to have borrowed a laser collimator from a friend and I must admit it did make aligning the primary a lot easier.
The idea behind the new centre spot is that as well as giving a better contract for when you are collimating, it also is shaped in such a way that you are able to know instantly which of the primary bolts need adjusting. When putting the primary back into the housing its a simple case of making sure that each of the three point correspond to one of the collimation bolts on the rear to the primary mirror cell. This instantly made collimating a lot easier. With the scope back together I was over the moon with how everything looked and how much better I think it will be once out under some dark skies. I will give more of an update on this once I have had a chance to test it.

As far as doing this I would recommend flocking to anyone. As long as you have some good sharp cutting tools and patience there should be nothing stopping anyone with a basic knowledge from doing this.
On the flip side cleaning and re-spotting a primary mirror is not something I would say was for the faint hearted. Under normal conditions you should be able to go a number of years without needing to clean a primary. It is only down to the fact that my location has a lot more dust in the air that it got in the condition it did so quickly and re spotting the primary did make a few marks which needed additional cleaning as well.

New dedicated website and a massive update incoming.

Well its been far too long but the weather and further equipment issues have meant very little in the way of updates until now.

First I would like to welcome everyone to the new dedicated website.
It became clear to me after speaking to various people that this site deserved its own space, this has been an ongoing plan for a few weeks that has only just managed to get put into action. Over the coming weeks there may well be a few changes but the core is now up and running again.

The last few weeks have been very hit an miss in regards to weather but also in regards to my guiding. I have been experiencing some very strange guide graphs and could not figure out what was going on. After getting a polemaster (more on this later) I should have been getting better guide graphs compared to before with my less than optimal alignment. Over the space of a few evenings thing went further and further down hill. After a lot of investigation and stripping the mount down I ended up sending it off to be repaired and hypertuned by Darkframe optics. All being well I should have the mount back over the next week or so ready to image with the new camera and modified scope (more updates to follow).

I will be posting more about the polemaster, new camera and the modifications over the coming days along with a few images I did manage to acquire before sending it off.