Category : How To

Make a Focal Reducer Case

I recently purchased a Hursch f6.6 focal reducer which just came in a cardboard case type box with a cleaning cloth. I also have a Meade f3.3 focal reducer but this came in a plastic bolt case.

I put a wanted ad for a plastic focal reducer bolt case on astrobuysell and I also called into ScopesnSkies to see if they had one, but they did not. 

Supercook CaseBut last week I saw some cake decoration boxes in the kitchen, and thought they may be perfect!

They are the half size cake decoration boxes that contain sugar stars, silver balls etc. from companies such as Supercook and Dr Oetker. So I removed the outer packaging and cleaned the inside out.

Focal Reducer and Case

Focal Reducer in Makeshift Case

I then cut out some thin foam and glued it into the case and then placed my focal reducer in and it fitted perfectly. The focal reducer does only fit one way up though, but is now airtight.

How To Connect an LX200 Telescope to a PC

I was quite amazed to find out that Meade still only allow you one way to connect your telescope to your PC, which is via an RS232 cable / 9 pin cable, the other end plugs into the RS232 slot on the LX200 base.

I would have thought by now that Meade may have added Firewire or USB to the LX200 range, but I must admit that RS232 is such a well known standard that it could be used for a while yet.

The only problem with serial connections on a PC is that some newer PC Desktops don’t have serial connections on their motherboards anymore, as I found out when I built my own new Core Duo PC earlier this year. Although most people probably don’t use a desktop PC with their Meade Telescopes unless they have PCs in their observatories, they would probably instead have a laptop. Another problem is that most newer laptops also don’t have serial connections, it seems now that the newer the laptop the less ports it actually has.

USB to RS232 Serial CableSo what can you do? Well you’ll probably need a USB to Serial cable or adaptor. I went for the cable and purchased it on eBay. Once I had received the cable from Hong Kong which cost me about £4 including delivery I had to install the drivers. I found that the accompanying mini CD would not actually be read by my laptop cd drive, so I hunted around the internet for drivers, and I tried absoultely loads, but none of them worked, in the end I put the mini CD in my desktop PC and it read the disc ok.

But because some people may not have more than one PC I shall place the driver I used on this page in case I or anyone else needs it in the future.

The CD that came with the adaptor contained many different adaptors, but luckily the code of the driver folder required is actually the name on the adaptor cable at the serial end on the plastic sleeve.

USB to RS232 Serial Adaptor Driver

HS-232-340.exe – USB to RS232 Cable Adaptor Driver for Windows

Setting up your PC and Meade Software

Then just connect the cable you purchased to the supplied Meade LX200 cable and adaptor.

The Serial connection defaulted to COM Port 5, although the Meade software only really gives you the choices of COM1 – COM4, so I changed the COM port of the cable on the PC in properties of the cable to COM1 for ease of use.

Make sure that your PC COM port is set to the same as the Meade software Com port in order to get the telescope to talk to the PC.

The first thing I did once I got the PC drivers installed was to update the Autostar software to 4.2g and to upload the latest autostar tours, comets, asteroids and satellites. All of which were easy to install via the Meade control panel on the PC.

I finished off by updating my Autostar Update (AUS) Client Application Software to Version 4.6 on my PC, but you don’t need a usb to serial cable to do this.

Attaching RA Motor Drive to MON1 Mount

After owning my Bresser Messier 130N for around two months I decided to invest in an RA Motor Drive for it. This particular RA Drive fits just the 130N and R90 telescope models. Other models of telescope in the Messier range can use another drive system which operates both the RA and Dec Axis.

I decided to buy one as I thought that the Messier RA Drive would make my job of keeping an object centered a lot easier, whether this worked or not can be discussed in another post when I actually review the RA drive, but this post will take you through how to attach your RA Drive to your MON1 telescope mount (as you can tell from the images I did this in the garden on a nice hot summer day).

Unpacking your RA Motor Drive

You should find the following contents in your box, the nice manufacturers even supply an Allen key and screwdriver!

Below you can see the hand controller, battery pack, motor, screwdriver and RA knob etc.

RA Motor Drive MON1 Contents

Attach the Motor

The first thing you need to do is attach the motor part to your MON1 mount.

MON1 Mount Hole for RA Drive Motor

You need to first tilt up your telescope mount to reveal a screw hold underneath as shown above, this is where your Allen key screw will go.

Fitting the RA Motor Drive for MON1 Mounts

Now locate the motor and the Allen key and the screw, and get ready to attach the motor.

RA Motor Drive Fitted

The image above shows the motor attached by the single screw.

Remove RA Arm

Now remove your RA ‘wobbly’ movement arm, just unscrew the screw on this and remove it, so you are left with your mount looking like the image below:

Remove RA Handle

Screw on RA Knob

Now screw onto this the new RA adjustment knob. There are two screws to this so make sure you align it up properly and screw both of them quite tightly using the provided screwdriver. The most important part to this is to make sure you get the teeth of both cogs nicely touching, not so tight so they don’t move but so they can turn each other.

Adding the RA Cog Wheel

Attach Hand Controller

Now attach the hand controller DIN plug to the motor drive, as shown below:

Motor Drive Hand Controller

RA Motor Drive Batteries

Finally you will need 4 x D Batteries to get the RA Drive to work, I purchased mine from Wilkinsons, and only paid about £1.20 for 4, the instruction booklet says you can use an AC adaptor but I would not recommend it.

RA Motor Battery Pack

Now plug the mains lead into the hand controller and you are ready to go!

RA Motor Drive Hints and Tips

I would advise removing two of the batteries when you are not using the RA drive, as the batteries could still use a little power.

Always remember to ‘Unlock’ the RA handle when you want to manually move the telescope on its RA axis or you could damage the motor drive. It’s also important to check that the same RA handle is completely ‘Locked’ when you want to use the RA Motor Drive as sometimes it can come loose and the telescope can stop moving.

RA Motor Drive Instruction Manual

There is a very good instruction manual included in the box, which is shown below and it should tell you everything you need to know.

RA Motor Drive Manual Cover

Using an SLR Camera for Prime Focus Astronomy

Prime Focus is the name given when you take the lens off of the camera and insert it directly into the telescope. In order to do this you will require a number of extra astronomy adaptors.

T-Ring

The first one is the T-Ring which screws directly into the neck of the camera. Not an expensive part to purchase, mine for my Canon 400D was around £10. But they do all differ, so make sure you get the correct make and model to match your camera.

Check out Pixmania who stock T-Ring adaptors for Nikon and Canon SLR Cameras.

1.25″ Camera Adaptor

This optional adaptor is used for prime-focus and eyepiece-projection astrophotography with SCTs and refractors. It can also be used successfully with many Newtonian telescopes that either have removable sections on the eyepiece holder (to allow the camera to reach focus), or by employing a 2x Barlow lens to extend the focus point.

The rear section screws onto the nosepiece and is designed to hold a 1.25” eyepiece (ideally a mid-focal length Plossl, say a 12.5 to 20mm) for eyepiece-projection photography, with a thumb screw to lock the eyepiece in position, or you can just leave this part on without an eyepeice inserted.

The 1.25″ adaptor comes with the nosepiece and cost me around £15.

The image below shows how the pieces fit together, with the camera, then T-ring, the 1.25″ camera adaptor and then the nosepiece adaptor.

SLR Camera Parts in a row with eyepiece adaptor

Nosepiece Adaptor

This adaptor can either be used together with the 1.2″ Camera Adaptor above (and it usually comes with the above adaptor anyway) or on it’s own with the T-Ring.

This nosepiece adaptor allows any digital or film interchangeable lens SLR (single lens reflex) camera to be attached to any 1.25” eyepiece holder. So you just slot this part into the telescope.

The front nosepiece section – which is usually threaded can also take standard filters. Using the nosepiece alone allows simple prime-focus photography and you can also use it with a Barlow lens to increase the image scale.

You can purchase a nosepiece separately (the chrome part) and it will cost about £6.

The image below shows the SLR camera then the T-Ring and the nosepiece, I also have a moon filter at the front of the nosepiece:

SLR Eyepiece Camera Adaptor

So all in all the cost of adapting your camera for telescope photography is not expensive at all and really easy to setup, it’s just the cost of a good SLR digital camera in the first place is the expensive bit.

Add Astronomy Adaptor to Philips SPC900 Webcam

Adding the Adaptor to the Quickcam Pro 4000 meant you had to unscrew the webcam and take it apart first, but luckily the Philips SPC900 webcam is really easy to take apart and add your eyepiece adaptor to.

Remove monitor clip

The large plastic clip on the webcam can be removed, there is no screw or anything you can really break here, just pry and pull the long plastic clip away from the webcam.

Below is a picture of the clip after it has been removed.

Remove SPC900 Monitor Clip

Remove outer lens cover

First of all you will need to pry off the outer lens cover of the SPC900, I did this myself with a small jewellery type screwdriver – the smallest I could find. You may be able to see from the photos that I did manage to slightly scratch/indent the plastic where I inserted the screwdriver.

Remove outer lens cover of SPC900

After you get the screwdriver in, just gently pull out the lens cover, which once out completely, looks like the image below.

SPC900 Outer Lens Cover

Unscrew the main lens

Now just unscrew the main lens cover until you can take it out.

SPC900 without outer lens cover

SPC900 Lens

Remember – do not leave the sensor open to the air for too long as dust could get in. So have your eyepiece adaptor ready.

SPC900 without lens

The image above shows the webcam with no outer lens or main lens, and it’s now ready to have the adaptor added.

Insert SPC900 Webcam Eyepiece Adaptor

Now just screw in your eyepiece adaptor, the one I have fits really well. When you purchase your webcam eyepiece adaptor make sure you purchase the adaptor which is made for the SPC900 luckily this also fits the Logitech Quickcam Pro 4000 and 5000.

Once you have finished you will have your eyepiece adaptor ready for use. Mine is pictured with an extra screw-in clear lens to keep the dust away from the webcam CCD sensor.

SPC900 Webcam with Eyepiece adaptor attached

Cover white light on webcam

The Philips SPC900 webcam has a white light which comes on when the webcam is in use which is very bright and annoying when out in the dark. Some people have used a black felt tip and coloured it in, instead in the photo below I have just added some blu tak and placed it over the light area, just in case I ever want to use the webcam as a normal webcam or even sell the webcam at a later date.

Cover SPC900 White Light with Blutak

SPC900 Webcam has common screw mount

A nice thing about the Philips SPC900 webcam is that it has a screw-in mount socket, so you could always screw the webcam into a mini tripod or even a regular large tripod if you so desire.

Remove SPC900 Monitor Clip

Where to purchase the Philips SPC900 in the UK

I purchased my Philips SPC900 from Amazon, but Pixmania also sell the webcam. In 2007 mine cost £46 delivered through Amazon.co.uk. Other companies did stock the webcam but it did cost a lot more from them.

Overall Initial Impressions

After using the webcam once – compared to the Logitech Quickcam Pro 4000, the Philips SPC900 does seem to be a lot better for Astronomy use, even though both have CCD sensors.

The VLounge software that comes with the SPC900 webcam gives you a lot more control of the webcam – such as being able to change the brightness, contrast, gamma, shutter speed, frames per second and much more. You will need to play with these settings to get the best out of the SPC900.

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