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Looking for advice on an observatory that can be moved

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#1 Lightpath

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 06:58 PM

Most of my friends know it's my dream to have a remote observatory.  As it turns out, a friend that I had lost touch with years ago popped back into my life with the following offer:  "I've moved to a very rural place in California, on the Oregon border, and would be thrilled if you would build a remote observatory on my property.  I've got a hilltop 360 degree unobstructed view at ~5000 feet altitude and I live here full time.  I'd be happy to do remote hands for you if you needed it.  This is my forever home, I do not intend to move."  She has excellent cell service (LTE) and sat backup.  We used to live together and she has done this type of stuff for me before so I have no doubt she can do it.  I've also done hundreds of hours of work with remote hands in data centers, so I have experience telling folks how to fix things over the phone.  Working with remote hands is well within my comfort zone.

 

 

I live in the SF Bay Area, and I have been working on my "robotic" setup for years.  It currently sits on my balcony, and besides covering/uncovering it, and taking it inside when it rains I rarely physically touch it.  So I know I'm pretty close if not there on operating it "remotely" but while I am knowledgeable I have zero experience with an actual observatory.

 

I had always imagined myself moving back to Denver, where I still own a house, and buying property near Westcliffe CO, an area with good skies and dark sky ordinances, and building a remote observatory there, or perhaps in my fantasies going farther south to New Mexico.  When my friend volunteered to let me build something on her property, well...  Let's just say I'm entertaining the possibility.  It's not as far south as I'd like but the price of the property and remote hands is worth the compromise I think.

 

Here's the thing-  Things happen, friendships change, people change, people move, and I feel that if I do take her up on her offer my observatory has to be something I can move.  My initial thought is to take my 16x8 foot enclosed cargo trailer and put a roll off roof on top, or better still a dome.  I could then weld together a frame inside to support the roof and provide stability for the pier.  If push comes to shove (she moves, or there's a wildfire in the area) and I need to take it away in a hurry, I can simply drive up with my one ton pickup, hook it up, and drive it away.  Park it in a storage lot, and figure out what's next.

 

The advantage of the trailer is that I also don't have to have a slab poured, and I can just run an extension cable out to it, and use wifi for access.

 

Does anyone know of any plans for doing such a thing?  Or does anyone have any good examples of how to do this?  I've seen some examples on the web of various builds where someone has bolted a dome to a trailer roof, but I'd like to actually see how things are constructed with plans and such. I've seen the pier-tech products/trailers, and they are an option I am open to considering.

 

I'm not adverse to throwing a little $$ at the problem, I'm not rich but I don't have to pinch pennies on this.  Then again, the pier-tech stuff is quite pricey, and I don't know how well it would stand up to snow, etc.  I don't know if I'd be able to afford the pier-tech.

 

Thanks for your thoughts!


Edited by Lightpath, 26 January 2020 - 07:01 PM.


#2 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 07:06 PM

Six years ago, I moved my Exploradome with 8 foot round building.  Used a 4x8 flatbed trailer.  It's on a 1.25 inch thick plywood floor with 2x6 framing, and a pier hole in the center.  I bolted it to two long 2x6s.  One person on each corner set it off the trailer and over the pier.  I put it on the trailer myself with jacks.

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#3 Lightpath

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 07:11 PM

Ok, WOW that is an interesting idea!!!!  Can you drive it like that on the freeway?  Just thinking if I have to move it a couple of thousand miles I'd need it to be able to stand up to the freeway winds.  But in general this looks like the right idea!


Edited by Lightpath, 26 January 2020 - 07:11 PM.


#4 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 08:12 PM

I moved it about 15.5 miles, from my "work home" (sold soon after) to my "retirement home".  I never exceeded 35 mph on local streets and one highway for about 10 miles (did not go on a freeway).  I could have driven faster with a larger trailer, and ties over the top.  I had it bolted from the floor framing to the trailer frame with four long 3/8 inch bolts with large washers.  If I was going to move it over about 50 miles or so, or on a fast highway, I would have rented a large flatbed trailer, and bolted and strapped with large straps like commercial flatbed trucks use.



#5 TMO

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 08:21 PM

Here's a concern.  Assembling and testing all the components of a remote observatory requires you to be there in person, as does normal maintenance and trouble-shooting.  Driving from the SF Bay area to the Oregon border takes at least 5 hours - quite a chore every time you need to be there.  Also, the Calif.-Oregon border gets 20 inches of rain and 12 inches of snow per year (and lots of clouds), diminishing observing and putting a premium on meteorological integrity.  There are dark sites two hours north and east of S.F. - much more accessible, giving you the chance and enjoyment of visiting, and working at, your observatory.  Also, staying within 50 miles of the Pacific coast yields improved seeing, especially in the mountains.

 

My two cents.  



#6 Lightpath

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 08:36 PM

Here's a concern.  Assembling and testing all the components of a remote observatory requires you to be there in person, as does normal maintenance and trouble-shooting.  Driving from the SF Bay area to the Oregon border takes at least 5 hours - quite a chore every time you need to be there.  Also, the Calif.-Oregon border gets 20 inches of rain and 12 inches of snow per year (and lots of clouds), diminishing observing and putting a premium on meteorological integrity.  There are dark sites two hours north and east of S.F. - much more accessible, giving you the chance and enjoyment of visiting, and working at, your observatory.  Also, staying within 50 miles of the Pacific coast yields improved seeing, especially in the mountains.

These are very interesting points.  I did notice my seeing tended to be pretty good, as I look out out over San Francisco Bay. 

 

I have no problem going to the remote site, and I would assume that I would be doing a lot of "sea trials" before putting real equipment in it.  I get "unlimited" vacation so I am not concerned with taking the time to get everything dialed in properly.  I think this is also why I would prefer something mobile, rather than something permanent, because if it didn't work out up there I could simply drive it to a more accessible dark site.

 

My first step, and one that's cheap and easy to do, is to put an all-sky camera out there.  I've been working on those for years, and have what I think is a very good setup that could very easily be set up out there, and run remotely.  That combined with a weather station could easily determine if that particular spot is going to work or not.

 

The other idea is to maybe put a very small observatory out there-  Something very compact with like an 80mm scope in it.  Think robodome.  If it didn't work out, go pick it up and store it until alternate arrangements could be made.

 

I'll also look into the land prices a couple of hours north of the Bay Area, but honestly Sonoma/Napa counties are not known for cheap real estate.  :-P


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#7 Lightpath

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 08:37 PM

I moved it about 15.5 miles, from my "work home" (sold soon after) to my "retirement home".  I never exceeded 35 mph on local streets and one highway for about 10 miles (did not go on a freeway).  I could have driven faster with a larger trailer, and ties over the top.  I had it bolted from the floor framing to the trailer frame with four long 3/8 inch bolts with large washers.  If I was going to move it over about 50 miles or so, or on a fast highway, I would have rented a large flatbed trailer, and bolted and strapped with large straps like commercial flatbed trucks use.

Ok, that's good data.  I've seen a couple of pictures of explorodomes being moved online, and I think I have an idea of what may need to be done if it had to be moved a long way.  Thanks!



#8 kathyastro

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 08:46 PM

Mine is a regulation 10x10 Exploradome building.  My move was a distance of 200 km on a major highway.  No problem.

 

20150520-3.JPG

 

The "foundation" at both the origin and the destination was a packed gravel pad.  The base of the building is a square of 6x6 pressure treated beams, which made it easy to pick up.


Edited by kathyastro, 26 January 2020 - 08:48 PM.

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#9 Lightpath

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 09:21 PM

Mine is a regulation 10x10 Exploradome building.  My move was a distance of 200 km on a major highway.  No problem.

 

 

The "foundation" at both the origin and the destination was a packed gravel pad.  The base of the building is a square of 6x6 pressure treated beams, which made it easy to pick up.

Good lord that is impressive!  Do you have any more detailed photos of the base?  I could not move this using my one ton, but it provides very interesting food for thought.



#10 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 10:58 PM

Compared to Kathy's Exploradome, mine is fairly light.  Four people easily picked it up off the trailer using 2x6 handles bolted to the sides, and set it over the new pier.  Using a small floor jack and some wooden blocks, I put it onto the concrete blocks holding it permanently in place.



#11 Lightpath

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 11:17 PM

I think the smaller explorodome is on the short list of things to do a lot of research on.  Especially if a floor jack (I have a 4 ton I think, I use for my truck) can be used to get it high enough to drive a trailer under.  It's nice to know that there are multiple explorodomes that have survived a move.

 

Second up is the robodome, although that limits what equipment one can use drastically.



#12 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 11:33 PM

I used what's called a farm jack to get it off the pier and onto the trailer by myself.



#13 Lightpath

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 12:35 AM

I used what's called a farm jack to get it off the pier and onto the trailer by myself.

Thanks!



#14 kathyastro

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 07:15 AM

Good lord that is impressive!  Do you have any more detailed photos of the base?  I could not move this using my one ton, but it provides very interesting food for thought.

Here is a photo of the base under construction.  The four bolts at the centre are the anchor bolts for the pier.  They were driven by sledgehammer four feet into the ground.  The pier sat on the ground.  In the original location, the 6x6 base frame was pinned to the ground at the corners by iron spikes.  There was no way to drive the spikes at the new location because of the completed building above, so it just rests on the ground now.

 

20130803-1.jpg

 

Here is a photo of the moving crew at work.  The building was raised by the big yellow pry bar.  Airbags (one visible on the ground in front of the pry bar) were used for most of the lifting.

 

20150520-1.JPG


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#15 EricCCD

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 11:04 AM

Pier-Tech has a mobile observatory:

 

http://piertechinc.c...ar-traveler-xl/

 

I have no affiliation with them but I've always been intrigued by their products.

 

On their website, they also have Telestation ROR's that can be disassembled/moved/reassembled.

 

More food for thought.

 

HTH,

Eric



#16 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 04:43 PM

Pier-Tech has a mobile observatory:

 

http://piertechinc.c...ar-traveler-xl/

 

I have no affiliation with them but I've always been intrigued by their products.

 

On their website, they also have Telestation ROR's that can be disassembled/moved/reassembled.

 

More food for thought.

 

HTH,

Eric

That sure is a nice setup, but I bet it's in the $$$$$ range.



#17 SonnyE

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 04:58 PM

That sure is a nice setup, but I bet it's in the $$$$$ range.

"Contact for Pricing"

Easily in the 5 figure range.

 

Nice looking, though.

Remove Telescope before moving.

 

I wonder what tickets cost to look through it?

 

I like Kathy's Observatory.


Edited by SonnyE, 27 January 2020 - 05:01 PM.


#18 Lightpath

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 06:30 PM

Pier-Tech has a mobile observatory:

 

http://piertechinc.c...ar-traveler-xl/

 

 

I wrote pier-tech, they gave me a quote but it's very...  "premium" and I think generally out of my price range.



#19 Lightpath

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 06:32 PM

Here is a photo of the base under construction.  The four bolts at the centre are the anchor bolts for the pier.  They were driven by sledgehammer four feet into the ground.  The pier sat on the ground.  In the original location, the 6x6 base frame was pinned to the ground at the corners by iron spikes.  There was no way to drive the spikes at the new location because of the completed building above, so it just rests on the ground now.

 

 

Here is a photo of the moving crew at work.  The building was raised by the big yellow pry bar.  Airbags (one visible on the ground in front of the pry bar) were used for most of the lifting.

 

 

Thank you, these pics gives me a ton of information on the ins and outs of that solution.


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#20 Lightpath

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Posted 28 January 2020 - 12:09 AM

"Contact for Pricing"

Easily in the 5 figure range.

You are correct.  Well over $35k for the smallest trailer when almost fully kitted out.  Well beyond my means, but they look fantastic.



#21 vsteblina

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Posted 28 January 2020 - 08:37 PM

Here's a concern.  Assembling and testing all the components of a remote observatory requires you to be there in person, as does normal maintenance and trouble-shooting.  Driving from the SF Bay area to the Oregon border takes at least 5 hours - quite a chore every time you need to be there.  Also, the Calif.-Oregon border gets 20 inches of rain and 12 inches of snow per year (and lots of clouds), diminishing observing and putting a premium on meteorological integrity.  There are dark sites two hours north and east of S.F. - much more accessible, giving you the chance and enjoyment of visiting, and working at, your observatory.  Also, staying within 50 miles of the Pacific coast yields improved seeing, especially in the mountains.

 

My two cents.  

Five hours is a day trip in Montana.

 

Not sure where you ex is in the Siskiyou's, but do it. You have a on-site person to troubleshoot.

 

The skies should be great.  Even in winter, the Medford Valley gets fog and all the light pollution is gone!!!

 

If you concerned about expense a "bolt-together" structure is really cheap and you can move it.  I bought a home dome and moved that in TWO pickup truck loads.

 

I had access to a "remote"observatory in the same time zone but with much clearer skies.

 

Didn't use it much at all. That would be my major concern.....are you a "remote" imager??



#22 Astronomiser

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 07:12 AM

Might consider SkyShed POD.  I have two of them.  They are great and can be torn down and put in pickup or small trailer.  Assemble with 2 folks in 3 hours.  Tear down in less time.  $3,500 delivered.

 

Gary In Oklahoma City



#23 macdonjh

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 07:49 AM

Lightpath,

 

Back to your original thought: using the 16'x8' trailer you have.  You mentioned welding, so it sounds like you could build an interior frame to reinforce the floor making it suitable for a pier.  You could also design in three or four jacking points to transfer the load from the pier to the frame to the jack points to the ground.  Then all you'd need at your friend's property is some stable points on the ground to install the jacks.  Some thickened concrete pads would be easy to install.  Then you could park your trailer over the pads, install the jacks and level your trailer.

 

If the worst happened, lower the jacks, hook up to your pick-up and drive out of danger, just like you said.  It wouldn't be any different, conceptually, than having an RV at a particular site long term.



#24 my-spot

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 11:36 AM

Last September (2019) I actually did exactly what you are contemplating. After years of dreaming about a remote observatory I had a similar offer from some very good friends who moved outside of Cody, Wy. I do NOT have what I consider to high end astro gear but I am a capable engineer and DIY'er. My setup was similar to yours in that I was fully remote capable except for an automated dome. Here is what I did...

  • I found a used 8' ExploraDome with automation for a good price. I designed and built a round building (walls) and then spent over a year with the observatory in my back yard operating it exactly the way I would remotely, including the LTE routers, and VPN network connection.
  • Friendship is FAR more important than equipment or my observatory! We made a written "gentleman's agreement" that covered understandings for access, payments, liability, removal if they sell or move, and many many other things. Some may feel the need to make a legally binding contract - YMMV.
  • I designed concrete piers and a bolt cage for my existing aluminum pier, had a local fabricator build the cage and shipped it out, and then found and hired a concrete contractor at the remote site to pour the concrete piers to my specs.
  • My friend and a small crew of his friends and family dug a trench and ran 400' of direct burial cable. (I was literally brought to tears when I saw the work they were willing to do for my little dream project!)
  • After working out every bug I could and having several months of error free "no touch" operation, I had an observatory packing party of friends and family. I documented the setup and packed the dome on a lightweight flatbed snowmobile trailer that was "perfect" for the 1700 mile trip from Michigan to Wyoming. (I sold the trailer in Wyoming)
  • I planned on 3 days from arrival to first light and it actually took 3 days (that impressed my wife), that included an accurate drift alignment and weather station setup. However, I planned the trip so I could take 3 weeks if needed. I made some additional modifications for the high winds in Wyoming, fixed a problem with a GFI breaker, and fixed some leaks thanks to a freak 2" rain storm, that took another week. The remainder of the three weeks was spent in Yellowstone, Glacier NP, and a leisurely trek back home.

My Cloudy Nights observatory gallery here...

 

So, 5 months later (Late Jan 2020), I have had no major issues or problems that have required anything but minor involvement on the part of my friend. Some minor snow intrusion, a counterweight adjustment, a USB connector cycle, and the need to hit the power button on the microphone I use to listen for problems. The dome has been hit with 70+ MPH winds and I have imaged on nights with 50 mph gusts (tracking was better than you might imagine). My cellular LTE based internet connection and VPN setup has been very reliable. My biggest fears are a mechanical failure of the shutter or the mount going crazy, but there have been no issues so far. The improvement in my astrophotos has been awesome but now I realize I need to improve my processing skills.

 

I have made sure my friend is compensated for time and expenses and has a regular stream of astrophotos. Most important and best of all, we are still friends!


Edited by my-spot, 29 January 2020 - 11:41 AM.

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#25 StarmanDan

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 08:44 PM

These may give you some inspiration.  A couple of them I have seen firsthand at TSP.  The trick is finding a way for the pier or tripod to extend to the ground without touching the trailer floor.  The one I call the 'delivery van' observatory uses hydraulic jacks that go through the floor of the van to lift a steel platform inside the van that a steel pier is bolted to. This isolates the pier from the rest of the vehicle so you don't induce vibrations onto the telescope when walking around inside the van. I've also seen the one with the dome integrated into the front of a camper trailer. IIRC this person drilled three holes on the floor of the dome and puts cinder blocks under the trailer where the holes are and then puts the scope tripod on the blocks inside the dome.  




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