When I was a teen, I did an astronomy (and archeology) summer camp one year. As part of it, we got to spend some nights operating the telescope in the teacher’s backyard observatory. He had turned a Sears metal garden shed into an impressive little observatory, complete with a motorized roof that opened to raise the scope into the night sky. I had several telescopes at home, but seeing the heavens through a high-powered “prosumer” scope is something I will never forget. Seeing the moon, and planets, and the stars so vividly was a very powerful, almost mystical experience.
Open Space Agency is a group that wants to leverage the collaborative powers of the internet and currently affordable 3D printing, robotics, laser-cutting, and other technologies to make ocular space more accessible (among other ambitious initiatives). They believe that we have gone through three eras of space development: The politics era, the commercial era, and now we’re on the threshold of an era of citizen space. As part of their mission, OSA has created the prototype for Ultrasope, an open source, 3D printable, high-powered telescope.
The Ultrascope is an ARO (Automated Robotic Observatory) with two designs in the works, the Explorer, with a 3.5″ mirror, and the Odyssey, with an 8″ mirror. All of the design files and control software will be available under an open license. OSA has also created an Arduino shield for controlling the telescope. In the video, OSA founder James Parr says that the cost of building the scope will be around £200 (about $300) in parts (with access to a 3D printer and laser cutter, of course), but he doesn’t specify which scope, the 3.5″ or 8″ he’s talking about.
This dream would have been almost impossible just 24 months ago. The levels of precision required for a maker-made scientific quality scope would have resulted in compounding errors conspiring to make observations frustrating for aspiring citizen scientists. However the emergence of low-cost 3D printers and Laser-cutting, paired with microcontroller platforms such as Arduino and Lumia 1020- with its 41 Megapixel CCD – mean that a project such as this is now eminently possible.
The way the Ultrascope is being designed, you’ll be able to use the app and camera mounted inside to view what other (opting in) scopes throughout the world are seeing. You’ll be able to send images from the scope to your web browser for anyone to see. How cool is that?
Just as the OpenROV project opens up an unprecedented level of access to ocean-borne exploration to citizen scientists and explorers, it’s inspiring to think of what an internationally accessible network of high-powered amateur scopes might be capable of discovering. Let’s hope this project comes to fruition.