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Airline travel scope for a major dark sky trip

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#1 retina boy

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Posted 19 August 2013 - 06:51 PM

I just saw the advertisement for the S&T Chile trip and it got me thinking. What would you take on the observing trip of a lifetime in these days of greater and greater luggage restrictions? I have never gone on a strictly observing trip. I have carried binoculars and small scopes on the plane when on vacation but I have never tried to maximize my scope power. There are many many travel scope ideas out there but many of them are too large with the modern restrictions. You also have to be able to carry clothing and other supplies. Most airlines are restricting you to 50lbs per bag with a two bag maximum. The bags themselves are part of the problem. A sturdy Pelican case will cost you 20 of those pounds so you are left with 30 pounds of equipment. It is very easy to use that up. However, using a lighter bag risks damage to delicate equipment.

So I have a few questions:

1. Would you try to do photography? Taking pictures increases the complexity by requiring a mount, camera etc but would allow you to keep memories of the trip.

2. What would you take for a scope? Would you do binoculars for portability, a refractor for versatility, or a take apart dob for light gathering ability?

3. What would you use for a mount? Driven or alt az? Would you bother with DSCs? (They may be useful to find objects under unfamiliar skies in a limited amount of time)

#2 Shneor

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 01:23 AM

If you don't mind using one max size bag for the telescope, a truss dob is the way to go. There's European organization that makes travel scopes, but I neglected to bookmark the site (but I found it on CN). Or you could try a C5 on a tripod. You will need at least 100x to see much in the LMC, and the more aperture the better - there's lots to see in that galaxy, as well as the SMC. Not to mention many other beautiful objects.

I had a 13" custom made for my New Zealand trip in 2000, and it performed beautifully in Alexandra, on South Island, at 45 degrees south latitude. You should take the biggest aperture scope you can, unless you rent one while you are there. I rented a 24" in an observatory dome in Australia in 2006. 8 good nights in two weeks.

Good luck!

#3 careysub

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 01:30 AM

I have been pondering these same questions: how much telescope can you get into a standard airline bag?

One question is: Does it have to be a Pelican case? Lighter hard-sided large suitcases are available with weights of 11-12 lb (just looking at ones with good reputations). The difference between having 30 lb of payload and 38 lb is quite significant. It won't be as indestructible as a Pelican, but does it have to be?

Another: Do you have "travel aperture fever" - wanting to get the largest optics you can in the bag?

If you are planning/considering building the scope you should look at Gary Seronik's 8" travelscope in the March 2013 Sky & Telescope. It weighs 15 lb. This serves as a reference point for what is possible, and what you can do simply by duplicating his build. (He had a previous build they came at 25 lb.)

By using somewhat more exotic materials (end-grain balsa core/Finnish birch composite for a readily accessible example) you can trim more weight or consider going to a 10". A 12.5" Royce conical mirror is still only 10 lb, so even that might be within the realm of possibility.

DSCs don't need to add much weight, but powered mounts add weight very quickly.

By planning your viewing session carefully in advance, with suitably prepared finder charts and good skills in locating I bet you can skip these without a problem.

BTW: I looked into the cost of shipping to Australia and it looks like it costs about $320 door-to-door, which includes a $90 "goods inspection fee" in Australia. This is "large box" which is 20x16x24, slightly larger in volume than a maximum size airline bag (the "62 inch" bag). Any weight is fine it seems. Presumably the cost of shipping it back is similar. Oh, it takes 78 days to ship. Parcel delivery services can do it much faster, but cost about twice as much.

#4 Mike E.

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 01:47 AM

Self contained Observatory in a carry on box.

www.company7.com/questar/index.html

www.questarcorporation.com


#5 Midnight Dan

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 06:21 AM

One option is to ship the scope to your location separately. You would then be able to use any size scope that you can afford to ship.

For airline travel, you'd want something that can fit in an overhead bin. I would never trust a scope to the baggage monkeys at the airports. This has been discussed before in other threads and I think the consensus was that the largest "off-the-shelf" aperture that would fit comfortably would be a 6" SCT. The tripod and mount could go in checked baggage.

If you're willing to build your own scope, there are some innovative designs in collapsible dobs that can allow you take an 8" dob on a plane. Here's one: http://www.garyseronik.com/?q=node/37

One item that is always troublesome for traveling is the tripod. If you opt for a 6" SCT, a sturdy tripod and mount can take up a lot of space and weight. The Celestron Nexstar 6 is one you might consider because you can leave the tripod at home and use the mount in a table-top mode. It provides goto and tracking and will find objects in that unfamiliar sky.

-Dan

#6 csrlice12

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 07:32 AM

Have you tried going thru your local astro society? Maybe have them contact an astro society where you are going and arrange a loner scope or rental scope? Kind of a reciprocal agreement type thing? May only be a 6" dob, but maybe a member down there might loan out a 16", you never know.

#7 Mirzam

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 07:56 AM

AFAIK you can always pay extra for additional luggage. At least that is what I did when bringing my 14" scope to Chile.

If you go to a good dark site you don't need no stinking encoders.

JimC

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#8 Shawn H

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 07:57 AM

TMB92 refractor, explore scientific alt/az tripod is a great travel setup!

#9 CharlesW

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 08:50 AM

I'd preship through UPS or DHL. Have them hold it at the terminal. Probably a lot cheaper than airline fees and few size restrictions.

#10 careysub

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 09:02 AM

Could tell us more about how you went about it? 14" is pretty big.

What size package (packages?) did it take?

#11 careysub

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 09:15 AM

Do you have any information about doing this?

Using Australia as the shipping destination, from what I have found on-line so far it appears that any regular parcel service (through USPS, FedEx, and DHL checked so far) ships by air and does indeed have dimensional restrictions at least as strict as airlines.

For all three the cost for a 50 lb package is about the same, around $650. So the round trip shipping cost is about $1300.

Are there are better options I have not discovered?

Sea shipping is cheaper, but has to be done through an aggregator who will arrange to pack it into a shipping container. The ship cost itself is about 1/3 as much, but you also have to pay $100 for customs fees, and it takes 2.5 months.

BTW: you can buy a 10" Dobsonian in Australia for about US$700.

#12 csrlice12

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 09:42 AM

...and probably sell it for $500 when you're done.....and it'll probably go pretty quickly.....total cost to you = $200. Bring your own eyepieces and accessories.

#13 careysub

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 09:59 AM

...and probably sell it for $500 when you're done.....and it'll probably go pretty quickly.....total cost to you = $200. Bring your own eyepieces and accessories.


Remember that you will be in the position of the "motivated seller" - you will have to unload it fast and easily at the end of the trip so plan on selling at a bigger discount, probably you will need to find the buyer before the trip to make arrangements.

Another thought - if you are going to start contacting and coordinating with individuals in Oz perhaps you could join an Aussie Astro club long-distance and arrange for a loaner.

#14 Pinbout

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 10:10 AM

Could tell us more about how you went about it? 14" is pretty big.



he had a thread about the build a while back.

I still like his deathray scope better. :p

it looks like startstructure's horizon before the dawn of the horizon. :grin:

http://www.cloudynig...&Board=atm&N...

#15 tomcody

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 11:23 AM

1. With your weight limit issues, no, I would not try to take an AP system with you, too heavy, expensive and complex.
But, If you want to go that way check out this site for an example of the stuff you will need:
web page

2. If it were me for visual only I would use:
Either a Tak Sky90 or a Tak FSQ106ED for the scope,
(note: add extender Q for either scope)
A Diskmount DM4 alt az mount with DSC,s and either a Sky commander or a Nexus unit with a SkySafari app on an Apple IOS device.
Note for a tripod, I would get a good folding photography tripod.
For eyepieces:
Just one eyepiece, one barlow and a diagonal.
A Baader T-thread Maxbright mirror diagonal.
A Leica ASPH zoom eyepiece and a Baader VIP barlow.
This system should be light, sturdy and provide great views.
Rex ;)

#16 csrlice12

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 12:06 PM

1. With your weight limit issues, no, I would not try to take an AP system with you, too heavy, expensive and complex.
But, If you want to go that way check out this site for an example of the stuff you will need:
web page

2. If it were me for visual only I would use:
Either a Tak Sky90 or a Tak FSQ106ED for the scope,
(note: add extender Q for either scope)
A Diskmount DM4 alt az mount with DSC,s and either a Sky commander or a Nexus unit with a SkySafari app on an Apple IOS device.
Note for a tripod, I would get a good folding photography tripod.
For eyepieces:
Just one eyepiece, one barlow and a diagonal.
A Baader T-thread Maxbright mirror diagonal.
A Leica ASPH zoom eyepiece and a Baader VIP barlow.
This system should be light, sturdy and provide great views.
Rex ;)


After all that, I wouldn't be able to afford the trip!! :lol:

#17 mclewis1

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 01:45 PM

Derek,

If I were taking a trip like that I would ...

- use a c6 ota, with an f6.3 focal reducer and if I was planning on shooting big objects (that require wide field capabilities) also add a Hyperstar setup (~f2). This provides a very versatile 300mm, 945mm, and 1500mm focal lengths so I could tackle just about any object.
- a red dot finder, and a 50mm autoguider scope, mounted piggy back on the C6.
- I'd probably use a DSLR with a remote control vs. a CCD imager (which requires a PC)... if however I was are also planning to take a laptop then perhaps the CCD imager would make more sense (smaller and cooled).
- the iOptron ZEQ25 as a mount. I would look into a replacement tripod or possibly consider cutting down the include steel tube model. The tripod legs (removed from the head) will likely not go into a regular rolling suitcase but might fit into an older style rectangular unit. I probably wouldn't have to shorten the legs by more than a few inches. An aluminum leg tripod (like the Vixen model) would probably be better to travel with.
- A small 12v power source for the mount - something with Lithium batteries.

I should be able to keep all of this and a few eyepieces and a diagonal under 40lbs.

I would normally use a camera bag for the C6 ota. I've traveled by air quite a bit with my C6 ota and like Dan mentioned above I think that the C6 is about the biggest commercially available telescope that can be legally carried onto a plane (fits with the 21 x 16 x 9" and 25lb requirement ... these numbers are approximate since some airlines has slightly different numbers). In a camera bag I'll still have some reasonable protection on the side walls and be small enough over all so that if I ended up on a regional jet (as opposed to a mainline aircraft) I'd still be able to carry the ota onboard. If I could guarantee that I'm only flying on mainline aircraft (737/A32x and above in size) then I'll have a bit more leeway with carry on size (within the size limits mentioned above). If I was travelling Internationally today I might also consider the ota in a backpack style bag, with some clothing as extra protection packed around the ota. When travelling internationally I would always consider having at least a change of clothes, a rain jacket, and toiletries in my carry on luggage.

#18 Shneor

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 02:21 PM

Nothing wrong with sending your telescope in checked baggage if it's properly packaged. I did with my 13", no problems at all.

Clears,

#19 careysub

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 03:29 PM

If you want to take an observing trip to Chile to see the southern skies, one thing to consider is renting time on a telescope that is already there.

The Atacama Lodge looks like a good bet:
http://www.spaceobs....en/telerent.php
http://www.spaceobs.com/en/tour.php

They have 13" and 18" Dobs, and a 24" Dob that is available after their nightly star tour, with Nagler and Ethos EPs.

Of course pre-arrangement would be needed to assure that you have the access you want.

Then all you would need to pack would some small instrument(s) and not need to "go big", say 40-50mm binoculars and and an 80 mm refractor. Or a 4.5" StarBlast with a Siebert coma corrector and light weight rebuilt base (replacing particle board with a lightweight core/plywood skin composite).

I am seriously considering this plan myself.

#20 careysub

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 03:34 PM

Could tell us more about how you went about it? 14" is pretty big.



he had a thread about the build a while back...


I meant more like "how you went about getting it to Chile" although the build is relevant to that question.

#21 Cotts

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 04:53 PM

If you want to take an observing trip to Chile to see the southern skies, one thing to consider is renting time on a telescope that is already there.

The Atacama Lodge looks like a good bet:
http://www.spaceobs....en/telerent.php
http://www.spaceobs.com/en/tour.php

They have 13" and 18" Dobs, and a 24" Dob that is available after their nightly star tour, with Nagler and Ethos EPs.

Of course pre-arrangement would be needed to assure that you have the access you want.

Then all you would need to pack would some small instrument(s) and not need to "go big", say 40-50mm binoculars and and an 80 mm refractor. Or a 4.5" StarBlast with a Siebert coma corrector and light weight rebuilt base (replacing particle board with a lightweight core/plywood skin composite).

I am seriously considering this plan myself.


And it is by far the best plan for a trip to Chile, as the OP is considering. I went to Atacama lodge in 2010 and rented the 24" for 4 nights. It was $90 a night - two of us shared the cost and became observing buddies.

Alain has a great variety of scopes from 4" TAK to the 24" (more than he mentions on the website, in fact). Email him and work something out.

I enjoyed my trip so much I'm going again in late March of 2014. I'll rent either the 18" or the 24" for four nights (as stated above the 24" is only available after midnight because of its use for his sky tour business while one can book an 18" for entire evenings). The other four nights I'm going to use an AT65EDQ on an iOptron ZEQ 25 and a small, sturdy tripod of some sort. I will bring the latter set-up with me in my luggage.

Dave

#22 Mirzam

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 04:53 PM

My scope along with books, flashlites, eyepieces, laser, etc was about 85 lbs. I used a Pelican-like case for about 60 percent of it and put the rest into suitcases with clothing. Eyepieces and the secondary were carried on.

Flying from US to Brazil the airlines allow (2) 70 lb bags so there were no additional fees. The leg to Chile had a limit of one 50 lb bag so I had to pay for a second bag, which was around $120 each way. This price was determined by the number of kilos, not a flat rate per bag.

I also built a sturdy box for transporting the primary that could be taken as carry-on or could be tossed into a suitcase with clothes for padding. It worked fine either way.

Sure there are plenty of things that could go wrong, but that is part of the adventure. The additional luggage costs are minor in the context of the overall trip costs.

All of this takes work and planning but is most definitely worthwhile if you can make such a trip:

Four perfect nights in Chile

JimC

#23 jrbarnett

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 06:15 PM

"So I have a few questions:"

And I have a few answers. :grin:

1. Would you try to do photography? Taking pictures increases the complexity by requiring a mount, camera etc but would allow you to keep memories of the trip."

Nah. I'd take pictures of people and daytime scenes. Bugger astro-imaging on holiday. Enjoy the dark night skies mano-a-mano, amigo. Imaging entails a decently sized mount and suddenly is not so conducive to airline transport.

"2. What would you take for a scope? Would you do binoculars for portability, a refractor for versatility, or a take apart dob for light gathering ability?"

For visual, none of the above. Well, okay, I'd probably find a way to squeeze some binoculars into the suitcase with everything else somehow, but on the all-important "aperture per cubic inch of luggage space" metric refractors and Dobs FAIL equally in inefficiency. What you need is as much aperture as possible in as little volume as possible, and that means CATADIOPTRIC.

I'd snag a C5 spotter, personally. You can pad the heck out of it by wrapping the OTA in clothing, or if you have a really big suitcase, you could put it and your other visual accessories in the padded semi-hard case that comes with the OTA, inside your suitcase for extra protection. It'll run you about $400. You'll want to add a 1.25" star diagonal because it comes with a 45-degree correct image diagonal for daytime spotting. You'll then want three eyepieces; a widest true field low power unit (24mm 68-degree or 32mm 50-degree) as your finder eyepiece, something in the 10-12mm focal length range for medium magnification, general DSO observing, and something in the 7-8mm range for high power (busting globulars, splitting doubles, moon, planets, etc.). I also hate straight through finders, so I'd replace the stock finder with an Orion finder shoe and an Orion RACI finder (probably 6x30 is ideal as it gives a 7-degree true field which under dark skies helps you find targets better than a 9x50 with only a 5-degree true field).

"3. What would you use for a mount? Driven or alt az? Would you bother with DSCs? (They may be useful to find objects under unfamiliar skies in a limited amount of time)"

For airline travel, I'd take any GOTO mount and any DSC-equipped mount off my list. You'll want a solid alt-az head capable of carrying the compact but decent diameter C5, that is directionally agnostic (you want to be able to reach zenith with it and keep the focuser knob in a decent orientation, so you want an al-az head that will mount a vixen rail on the right side of the centerline of the head (which will put the rail on the OTA on the left and the focuser knob on a C5 straight down below the diagonal - perfect).

I'd hurry up and see if I could get a Desert Sky Astro DSV-1 or DSV-2 head by the time of my trip if I were you. They are made to order. And then you'll need a tripod that is compact enough to fit in the suitcase but hefty enough for the C5 and DSV mount head. I'd look for something that has legs with locking spreaders like the old Bogen 3068 tripods. You want a minimum of about 20# tripod capacity for the head and OTA. Also be sure that the DSV head it tapped the same as the stud threads on the tripod you choose, or else that you can get a thread adapter for the tripod stud.

I'd also get a decent UHC or OIII filter in 1.25" format for the trip.

Regards,

Jim

#24 retina boy

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 09:50 PM

Very thoughtful replies guys thank you. I was really looking for a generalized airline travel scope package. The trip to Chile is really a thought provoker but something that could work elsewhere would also be a benefit.

The obvious best solution would be to rent a large aperture scope that is already there. I will take that as the default winner. However many trips I plan to go to locations where there are no scopes available. So what do you do then? My main options, a small refractor or a take apart dob both received votes. I did not expect the votes for a small catadioptric like a C6. That is quite interesting. I have a C8 that I love and use frequently. It however does not do much for wide field views. A C6 would not be wide field either but would certainly give you a compact observing package.

I think I am in agreement on no photography route. It just seems like so much muss and fuss and you're probably likely to get good quality photos in other ways.

In general I am star hopper but I still remain concerned about how well I would be able to find objects under completely unfamiliar skies that are much darker than I'm used to. Initially I will try to man up and go without the electronics.

Since I am always highly susceptible to aperture fever, the idea of a lightweight take part dob certainly seems like seductive option for the ultimate airline travel scope.

#25 jrbarnett

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 09:58 PM

Here's something to consider. It will actually be easier to star hop the brighter stuff under dark skies than under light polluted skies. This is because many of the brighter DSOs will be directly and/or avertedly visible to the naked eye under dark skies, and will also be much brighter and more obvious in a magnified finder. For dim stuff in a crowded region, it's easy to get lost in a sea of stars, but I think you'll have an easier time locating the showcase targets (Messiers, brighter Herschels, etc.).

- Jim






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