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  • Writer's picturePaul Muller

A beginners guide to building a remote observatory

Updated: Apr 9

To the uninitiated, designing and building a remote astronomy observatory can be an expensive learning exercise or trail and error. Decades of experience, combined with some great new technology, can help smooth out the lumps and bumps and get you "on sky" with less hassle.

The process can be broken up into eight discrete chunks or steps;

  1. objective & mission planning

  2. resources, system design & shopping!

  3. build and test (off-site)

  4. documentation & labelling

  5. packaging & transportation

  6. delivery & setup

  7. integration testing & commissioning (on-site)

  8. ongoing support

The first reaction we imagine most of you are having is "whoa! that's a LONG list!", but I'd bet that those 8 steps are but a fraction of what is involved in planning and deploying the Hubble or JWST. NOT that we're suggesting that putting a telescope in outback Australia is the same thing as sending a $4B instrument to L2, but there are days when it will feel like it is, especially if you're one of the many guests we have who are based in the Americas or Europe.

Remote observatories require a different mindset to backyard or star party imaging. Unsurprisingly, there are already a great number of resources out there to help you with each of these steps and, rather than recreating them, we'll aim to summarise the critical points and provide you with links to further reading as desired.

Stop and smell the photons

The critical take away from this first article should be: slow down! Don't rush the process now hoping to get on-sky tomorrow. Done right, you'll have years of nights free to capture data, and all the planning and patience will be rewarded with great data.

More than anything else, whatever you do, don't start buying the next shiny new toy before you understand how the system as a whole needs to come together. We have shelves full of old astro bits that seemed like a great idea at the time which are doing nothing more than gathering dust, all because we didn't take the time to understand how the decisions we were making at the time would impact our broader goals.

Coming up

Our first in-depth article in the series will be, counterintuitively, on the penultimate in the above list - on-site testing and commissioning - we'll explain why then!

Until then, clear skies!

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