...the waiting is the hardest part...
I guess we are always waiting on something new, but, depending upon how you look at it, I have been waiting for this scope for 18 months, or closer to 18 years. I owned two StarMaster 14.5" F/4.3 scopes, one around 16 years ago, and the other several years later. They were great machines, but selling them reflected the difficulties I was having balancing work, a young family, and my desire to stargaze. I kept an eye on progress in the world of dobs and took notice when faster mirrors started to become available. Several of the things I had learned from my prior forays into the world of big dobs was that 1)Seated and flat footed observing was my strong preference 2)goto and tracking allowed me to focus on observing given my generally limited time 3)Big dobs only make sense under dark skies.
By 2017 my toddlers had turned to tweens and teens. Last year I was also fortunate enough to finish up on my home mortgage. Enter the return of a savage case of aperture fever. (Up until that year I was mostly using an Orion 8" dob).
The starting point for me was the number 3.3. That was the focal ratio on the Starmaster Super FX which happened to feature a quartz mirror. I had read a bit and understood the implications of the lower thermal expansion of quartz. The 20" F/3.3, however, really blew my mind. It added up to a zenith eyepiece height of approximately 65", which just so happens to be the exact height of my eyeballs above the ground when I am standing comfortably erect. I contacted Mike Lockwood in the spring of 2017 and sent in a deposit to reserve one of the two quartz 20" F/3.3 blanks he had available at the time. Done.
I then turned my attention to the telescope structure.
(A word of caution to those reading who are expecting some sort of punchline about how I saw deeper with this scope than any scope I had ever seen through before - it has not seen first light yet - for me, anyway.)
I loved my StarMasters but I remember drooling over these all aluminum scopes being built by a guy named Zammit many years ago. The scopes were called StarStructure and they seemed to offer a great combo of precision and sturdiness. They also had a great reputation and I filed them away in the back of my mind under 'dream scope'.
That dream scope is sitting at my house currently, waiting for first light.
I was thrilled to find StarStructure Telescopes prominently featured on the Lockwood Optics website. Last year I contacted Mike Zammit at StarStructure to discuss the possibility of building my scope. I was pleased to find that Mike was personable, open, and a straight shooter. He gave me great advice about telescope options, and when he didn't have a strong opinion about related matters, such as what ramps are best to buy to load and unload my scope, he was quick to let me know and usually had a helpful suggestion as to what resources I could pursue.
As some may know, Mike relocated his home and business earlier this year. As summer approached and Mike's building efforts kicked into high gear, he kept me in the loop with plenty of pictures and build issues as they came up. Mike's building process is absolutely custom all the way. For instance, the secondary for my 20" quartz mirror is a 4.5" cervit. The reason being that Mike Lockwood only had a quartz secondary available in 5" at that particular time. I was happy to go with a smaller secondary obstruction and still have a low thermal expansion material. This particular cervit secondary was on the thick side, which made for a slightly heavier secondary than usual. To compensate for this Mike Zammit, made some minor changes to the secondary cage to bring the total weight of the secondary back into line with what would achieve best balance with eyepieces we discussed that I would likely be using.
This is just one of countless times that Mike Z helped me customize my scope so that it would work best for me. Turns out Mike and I live only a few hundred miles from each other. Last month I brought my daughter along with my minivan to go pick the scope up. Mike was extremely gracious and spent tons of time going over the build and function of the scope.
One more thing. When I got the scope back to my house I was in a rush to put it away securely as I knew it would be a few weeks until I could get to it. I stupidly and hurriedly tried to negotiate a tight turn in the house by lifting the handles too far up. The mirror box slid a few inches along the rocker box and stretched the spring that engages the goto, rendering it somewhat dysfunctional. After I finished thoroughly excoriating myself I emailed Mike. The next morning we face timed to determine exactly what the problem was and what the fix needed to be. Mike manufactured a new wire (The one in place had become kinked because it now had too much play in it) and since he didn't have any springs on hand, put me to Gary Myers at StellarCat who promptly sent me one.
Turns out the only thing as good as the quality of build at StarStructure is the awesome customer service.
Today I had a few hours to do the install and put the scope together to test it out. The goto works like a charm, and once again, as happens every time I come into contact with my scope, I am thrilled by it's clean, solid lines which ooze great workmanship, and by it's tremendous fit and finish.
There are a subset of you out there who, without pictures, will swear it never happened. To douse any early flames of conspiracy, I have included a lone pic of my telescope, sans primary optic (which is currently sitting oddly close to where I sleep), and shroud.
This photo will have to do for now. The next one I take will hopefully be at the scope's full time home sitting in a BYO dobservatory at my dark sky site.
Thanks for reading,