The Construction of a 3.2m Rotating Dome Observatory - Introduction
Next page..Concrete Base and Pillar >>

After a couple of years struggling in and out with the heavy Losmandy G-11 mount, Meade 10" Schmidt-Newtonian telescope, counterweights, guide scope, cameras, table and all the other miriad bits and pieces that are required to take long-exposure deep-sky images, I decided enough was enough!

Added to the sheer task of carrying and setting up the equipment, I live in a very flat and windy place, often meaning that the capture of well-guided, good quality images is impossible. This can be very frustrating, so I decided that a proper observatory was the most important investment I could make to get the quality of results I think I can achieve with the equipment I have.

All the usual designs, such as run-off sheds, sliding roof sheds were considered, but the ultimate type of observatory is surely the rotating dome design, especially in such a naturally windy location as this. After deciding on a dome, I researched several ways of dome construction, and even considered purchasing a commercially built dome. I soon realised that off-the-shelf domes larger than three metres in diameter were many thousands of pounds, so I advertised for a second-hand dome in the astronomical classifieds on the internet, and it was through one such wanted advert that I was contacted by Roger Phelps and Keith Venables.

Roger and Keith have constructed two superb domes in Somerset and Surrey respectively. They have used fibreglass for the 3.2m domes, and suggested that I used the mould that they had constructed to build the 12 fibreglass sections required for the complete dome. After visiting Keith's observatory in Camberley, I decided that this was definitely the way forward.

Bob Anderson, from Ontario, Canada, is also building a similar dome. You can see his progress here...

Click on any of the images below to see a larger version

Here is Keith's superb Camberley observatory which houses a huge 18-inch reflector.

This observatory combines a wooden base with the fibreglass dome. Roger has elected to use a metal-clad base in his dome in Somerset, and this houses an 8-inch LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

Both have used an 18-inch concrete-filled metal tube for the incredibly stable pillar that support the telescopes.

You can see full details of Keith's observatory on his website:

Originally, I had decided to completely ignore fibreglass as a material for the dome, thinking that the fabrication techniques were completely beyond my limited DIY abilities. However, Roger convinced me that I could do it, and he very kindly offered to teach me by actually building the first section with me. To this end, Sue and I visited Roger and his wife Carol to learn how it is done.

Here is Roger standing next to the mould that has already been used for 24 successful sections. Note the sophisticated wheel-barrow workbench, key to the whole process!

After a few hours, here is the result - my first section. A piece of cake! (with Roger's expert guidance). Now only 11 more to go, without Roger and Carol's assistance.

Here we see the section straight from the mould. It has to be trimmed and painted black on the inside. The green colour comes from the particular resin used. As I build more sections at my home (this one was built in Somerset), I will take more photographs of the fabrication process.

I intend to document the construction my observatory in these pages over the coming weeks. I hope to complete the project by Autumn 2006.

Next page..Concrete Base and Pillar >>