I just received my telescope and unpacked it. I did a quick check to make sure everything was accounted for and quickly assembled it. While unpacking the tripod legs I found one of the pivot pins that are used in the quick release system was missing. I found the pin in the bag that the leg was wrapped in and pressed the pin back into place. This may be my first modification. While all the other pins were in place, a couple more of them weren't as tight as I would like them to be (it would stink to loose them out in the dark). I will probably replace them with a pin/cotter-pin assembly as I have time. Pictures of the telescope as I unpacked it can be found here.
I've spent the last few days trying to gather information on accessories for the RCX400. I am working with Frank Sperl (Mitty Observatory Machine Shop) on the modifications to the tripod mounting plate to accommodate his Evolution Wedge. I have also started an email exchange with Scott Losmandy (Losmandy Astronomical Products) for new dovetail designs (I want to mount a wide field imager on top and counter-weights on the bottom). I have also started a dialog with Daniel Bisque (Software Bisque) to see if there is any information on changes to 'The Sky' or 'CCD Soft'. I haven't gotten the telescope out under the stars yet (life got a bit crazy this weekend) but I need to hook everything up to verify what software works and what doesn't (if any). Specifically, I am concerned with the new Autostar software (will 'The Sky' control my mount or not) and whether or not 'CCDSoft' will be able to use the telescope's motorized focusing effectively.
I had a chance to test out the compatibility of the telescope with 'The Sky' and can report that it works great. I used the 'Autostar II' setting and the software recognized the RCX right away. I was fairly surprised that the GPS could train while inside (I did this in my office). It recognized the location change and adjusted for me. I used 'The Sky' to slew the telescope to various virtual targets and the telescope responded immediately. I could not verify the pointing accuracy of course but it was pointing and moving correctly in relation to the star chart in 'The Sky'. I'll do more testing once I can get out under the stars.
I had my first opportunity to get my new telescope out under the stars last night. After setting everything up and going through the Automatic Alignment, the telescope asked me to confirm the location of a star. I went to the eyepiece and I couldn't see anything because it was out of focus (of course). I went to focus the telescope and the hand controller kept saying "At Limit" which is an indicator that the corrector plate is either all the way in or out. I tried both in and out with the same response. I could hear the motors moving but just for a few seconds then they would stop. I pulled out my handy red light flashlight and decided to do a visual inspection of the focusing devices. When I would focus, only two of the devices were working (you can see the screw shaft rotating). The lower device didn't move at all. I switched the controller to "Collimation" mode to see if I could get the lower focus device to do anything... nothing. I reset the collimation and only the top two motors ran. I am guessing that the lower device is jammed somehow because the hand controller dims when you try to focus in or out (like all the current is being drawn by the focusing motor). So, my telescope is waiting for UPS pickup and a trip back to Meade. Customer service was very responsive and didn't make me jump through any hoops ("did you try this?... can you try this again?...."). I will be purchasing the 'Sky Assurance' plan today :P
I'll update when I find out what was wrong (if they let me know).
Well, it was operator error! (kind of) I got home tonight to try and trouble shoot the problem a bit more. I found that the bottom motor would move only to lock up again as I tried to focus in 'Fast' mode. It was odd because once the bottom focus assembly would lock up, there was nothing I could do to get it to move again. I would cycle the power switch but that wouldn't do anything either. So I decided to try one last thing... I removed the batteries (thinking this may clear some sort of cache in the controller) and behold.. the bottom focuser would move again (until I switched to 'Fast' focus again). After doing this like 3 times I started to wonder.. "hmm.. could it be the batteries?". I only had 4 new C-cell batteries but sure enough, the scope started working like a charm. I have now learned that the LX200GPS can only function on a new set of batteries for 3 hours. The RCX400 most likely drains the batteries faster because of additional equipment. Time to order an external power supply! I REALLY like the "Reset Collimation" function of the scope. With one of the focus motors not running it was really out of Collimation before I figured out my power problem.
An update on my quest to get new Dovetail plates: I got a response from Scott Losmandy saying he will be out of town for 2 weeks but he will work on them for me when he gets back.
Things are a step closer to the imaging platform I envisioned. My Mitty Stealth Evolution Wedge is assembled and ready to go. I have ordered an external DC power supply for the telescope so my earlier power condition doesn't re-occur. I have also ordered some Peterson Engineering Get-A-Grip handles for the telescope. I can mount my telescope, but it is always a struggle. I am hoping the new handles will help make the process a little less stressful.
I received my Get-A-Grip handles today and had no problems installing them on my 10" RCX400. It took me about an hour and was very easy (it only takes a while because there are 10 tiny cover plate bolts to remove). I would put this on my list of must-have alterations. It doesn't make the telescope any lighter (maybe Pete can start working on anti-grav handles next) but you can carry the load much easier (so it seems like it is lighter). The new handles along with some advice to turn the OTA so that the forks are in alignment with the control panel makes getting the RCX on my Mitty Evolution Wedge a snap now. One piece of advice I can give is to have the tripod as low as possible while mounting. You can easily raise and level the setup after the telescope is mounted (in my case, I level and leave the tripod all the way lowered).
I finally got my RCX400 out in a Polar Alignment configuration. Since this was my first ever attempt to get my telescope fully setup for astrophotography, I knew there would be a bit of learning curve to overcome. This was the first time I have been able to setup the telescope with my Mitty Stealth Evolution Wedge (the tripod tang needed to be machined for use with the Mitty Wedge). While the wedge was a dream to use, my lack of experience with a computerized telescope set me back a few times. The first step getting in "Polar Home" position took me a while because to rotate the tube fast enough (to see if the stars rotated correctly) you have to set the slew speed pretty high. Then I would try to adjust the angle and over-shoot. After some time trying this I found that if I just hand rotated the tube and adjusted the angle with a slower slew speed it worked a lot better. After I got the telescope in the "Polar Home" position, it slews to Polaris and you center it using the wedge adjustments. Then you do a one star alignment. I found that the better I got at getting the telescope in the "Polar Home" position, the closer the telescope would be at pointing to the one star (Arcturus in my case). This is where I hit my first stumbling blocks. I then tried to connect "The Sky" and found that there is a step that syncs the two and you need to align AFTER. I had just spent an hour getting the alignment just right and now the computer was telling me to do it again. Well, I decided I didn't want to do that so I moved on (at the expense of accuracy). I slewed to M17 and it moved to the right spot of the sky so I figured it may be ok. I then installed my ST2000XM CCD and got it all up and running (-7 @ 60%). I then moved on to focusing. I set the focus setting to use "The Sky" and found that @Focus would error. I'm not sure if this feature is supported with the RCX400 but CCDSoft had no problem slewing the telescope. I went into manual focus mode using the hand paddle. I found that a 5 second repeating exposure with a 10 second pause to make corrections worked well with the manual focusing. Once I got it to where I thought was the best focus I moved on to autoguiding. I then noticed that clouds were moving in on M17 and thought I would just try something else (not expecting any results worth keeping anyway). So I slewed to the Pelican Nebula which was just over the top of my house (not the best idea but I just wanted to get to imaging for the experience). I had a few moments of frustration when I selected the ST2000XM as the autoguider and I would loose it as the imager. I then found the "Internal Autoguiding Chip" setting and all was well. I tried for an hour to get the autoguider to calibrate. I would get errors telling me to increase the X axis setting then the Y axis. It seemed that no matter what I did it wouldn't calibrate. There was one bright star in the field so I know it wasn't having a problem with that. I'm not sure if part of the problem was that polar alignment was off a bit (I didn't drift align) or the telescope was just not tracking well (I have not done any PEC training). I finally did find a combination that worked, 5 second exposure with 15/15 x/y calibration. I found that centering the guide star seemed to help also. Well it was about 12:15 am on a work night (3+ hours of fiddling) and I just had to shoot something. I did 5-5 min exposures binned 2x2 with dark frame (no light frame [I still need to construct a box]) and decided to call it a night. Somewhere around 1:15 am I made it to bed.
As expected, the shots were nothing to write home about (or post anywhere :) but the experience I gained will help me the next time I get out. I learned to find the "Polar Home" quickly and that you need to fire up "The Sky" and connect before aligning. I found a close to focus setting on my RCX400 and some calibration settings for autoguiding. I still need to get @Focus to work with my RCX400, drift align, and train PEC.
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