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ScopeX 2011 ATM Awards
By Chris Stewart

The buildup to the 10th annual ScopeX was fraught. Weather forecasts alternated between tantalising and terrifying, and when the day dawned it was impossible to know what the turnout would be. Nevertheless the array of telescope makers and their creations was rather good, producing much in the way of new exhibits for the judges to consider. Entrants came from as far afield as Riversdal, cramming huge loads into small vehicles so that the visitors would have the opportunity to examine and discuss their handiwork.

The purpose of the ATM awards is to recognise accomplishment and to spur people to stretch themselves, thereby advancing the intriguing art of amateur telescope making (ATM). By highlighting the merits of certain exhibits, it is hoped that others will adopt the good ideas and perhaps find way to make further improvements. Instruments that previously garnered awards are not generally eligible for another, but significant improvements to those instruments might well. The judges (Dave Blane and I) may consider a component, a complete instrument or a body of work to be worthy. The following characteristics are of particular importance...

Workmanship: Quality of finish, beauty, style, precision
Innovation: Application of new ideas, principles, materials, techniques
Ambitiousness: Difficult optical configuration, grand scope of project, courageous modifications
Ingenuity: Lateral thinking, unusual ways of solving old problems, interesting use of found materials

We are grateful to our sponsors for making it possible to award tangible prizes of particular use to telescope makers. In assigning these, we try to not only make the intrinsic value of the prize commensurate with the magnitude of the recipient’s accomplishment, but also to match their needs. This can be a tough decision.

Pat Kuhn unobtrusively turns out little gems of fine craftsmanship, the embodiment of careful thought. This year he produced two items of interest. The first is a nice binocular mount incorporating an extensible paint roller handle and a ball joint made of PVC plumbing parts and a golfball. The second is a compact barn-door style camera tracking platform, with a curved bolt drive and microprocessor-controlled stepper motor drive. For these he received a subscription to Amateur Astronomy Magazine, which caters to both his ATM and astrophotography interests. The effectiveness of the tracking platform is borne out by the fact that, unbeknownst to the ATM judges, he was also destined to receive an astrophotography award.

Dave Rick showed what can be done with readily-available household materials and basic hardware items. Taking found items and pressing them into service in ways their manufacturers could never envision is a quintessential ATM attribute. More importantly, it shows those of lesser means or skills that it is possible to create a fully functional telescope at low cost. We all admire a pretty finish, but functionality must clearly come first. For his efforts, he too received a subscription to Amateur Astronomy Magazine.

Dave Hughes is well known for his ambitious projects. This year he fielded the optical tube assembly of Dall-Kirkham design, which saw first light just the night before (target: Saturn through a gap in the clouds). As usual, exquisite workmanship makes for a pretty instrument, but the real beauty is in the details. Careful scrutiny by experienced ATMers would still not reveal the inner workings of the rotatable 2” Crayford focuser, which provides for precise collimation, let alone how the main mirror cell attaches to the tube. This outstanding piece of engineering garnered Dave a Baader Planetarium 17mm Hyperion eyepiece, courtesy of Eridanus Optics.

Charl Kok is clearly a keen observer. His finely crafted 8” truss-tube Dobsonian abounds with subtle touches to keep him close to the eyepiece. Apart from the unusual (but useful) accessory tray, conveniently close to hand whilst at the eyepiece, there are even compartments on the rocker box tailored to hold his star charts & log book. This work gained Charl a William Optics 12,5mm Super Planetary eyepiece from Eridanus Optics.

Louis Viljoen felt the need for a compact instrument that would be easily transportable, but wanted a larger than average aperture to take advantage of the dark sites to which such an instrument may be taken. Accordingly he produced a 9” coffer scope. This design, initiated by the French, allows for all of the components but the two truss poles to be reconfigured into a compact carry box. Clever shaping allows interlocking parts to be efficiently cut from a single sheet of material without wastage. Once assembled, there are no packing components left over – it is all just telescope. Old vinyl LPs were pressed into service for both azimuth bearing and the eyepiece light shield attached to the secondary. For this creation, Louis received a 25mm Televue Plossl eyepiece from Eridanus Optics and a Barlow lens from The Telescope Shop.

Wim Filmater once again travelled far to share his ingenuity with the ATM fraternity. His extremely tall Newtonian needs a stable mount, and the long focal length encourages high powers that really need effective tracking to provide a satisfying observing experience. Both of these requirements are met by a “swing” style equatorial platform. The large triangular footprint, neat polar axis altitude adjustment, auxiliary mounting point for a camera or small scope, curved-bolt drive with mechanical speed adjustment and simple yet robust bearing all combine to overcome an assortment of practical difficulties. Made predominantly from square section steel tubing, this is a rugged and effective design worth emulating. Not content with this, Wim also showcased his “bike scope”, an 8” truss tube Dobsonian that essentially folds flat to fit into a small back pack, making it highly portable, even on a bike. For this body of work Wim was awarded an aluminium accessory case containing two eyepieces, a Barlow lens and several filters, thanks to The Telescope Shop.

Johan Smit is a stalwart tutor in the ATM class, who has long espoused the virtues of basic, solid designs that are easily realised from readily available materials, but engineered to be a joy to use in the field. As the telescope size increases, weight and stability are particular concerns. Deciding it was time for a 10” f/9 mirror (which makes for an exceptionally long instrument) to catch starlight, a truss tube Dobsonian seemed sensible in order to keep a low centre of gravity. Those who would like such an instrument but are daunted by the prospects of coupling tubing take heart: Johan has proved that plywood trusses not only work, but flat-pack and don’t roll away in the dark. Affectionately known as “long drop” due to the commode-like rocker box, the striking red livery caught one’s attention from afar. Closer examination would have revealed his trademark finderscope and focuser arrangements. In recognition, Johan came away with a bench drill press and set of drills from Rhologan Engineering.

We would like to thank everyone who brought something to show - for their patience and enthusiasm in dealing with the visitors, for putting their precious handiwork at risk due to the weather, and for trekking vast distances with heavy loads. Such commitment is what makes ScopeX such a special event. It is always a pleasure to encounter interesting innovations, to revisit “old friend” telescopes and to have time with fellow amateurs.

--- Chris Stewart

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