May 30, 2020

Downsizing Astronomy: A Rough and Ready Astronomy Rig

Our current travel gear: ready for an upgrade?

The circle is nearly complete. Late last year, we took on a book project presented to us by Fraser Cain over at Universe Today. Numerous edits, rewrites and deadlines later, the book out from Page Street Publishing this October is nearly now on autopilot.

I do want to write one day about lessons learned during the first-time book writing process. But what I want to present this week is our stick and carrot reward project we’re about to initiate.

For years, our go to telescope has been a Celestron 8-inch, Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector. It’s a great scope, to be sure; it’s versatile enough for planetary or deep sky observing, plus I can still sling it into the hatchback of our Fiat 500 for mobility.

The trouble is, I have to leave it home when we fly abroad, and simply carry our DSLR and our Canon image-stabilized binoculars. I’ve always wanted a simple rig that’s down-sized to meet international flight carry-on restrictions, and I’m now ready to pull the trigger.

An article in Sky and Telescope last year also hatched a seed in my mind. In it, a pair of astronomers roughed it traveling through South America, and carried two small telescopes with them to use for public star parties. This got me thinking to all of our wayward journeys through places like Morocco, Nepal, and Cambodia… wouldn’t it be great to offer views of the Universe to people who have never looked through a telescope?

Thus a plan was born. I’m looking to donate the bulky 8-inch SCT scope to a good home (say, a deserving local school or astronomy club, where it will actually get used) and downsize to the largest Maksutov-Cassegrain scope I can get away with (hopefully) an Orion 127mm (5-inch). For solar observing, I’m hoping to do the team from the article one better, and trade in the Coronado PST solar scope for a white-light glass filter plus an offset hydrogen alpha filter for the aperture. One telescope to rule them all, in one kit.

I’m also hoping that the rig is light enough to fit on my collapsible Dolica travel tripod, and it won’t necessitate buying yet another beefier tripod. I may also add in a Skywatcher/IOptron tracking mount, though I always like to maintain the option of being able to simply hand slew the telescope towards targets, and not worry about dead batteries or slow drive motors (I can find the Moon myself, thank you very much).

A fully airline portable travel astronomy rig is a noble goal, and a worthy reward to ourselves for finishing our first book. We also have another criterion for the project: to keep the entire budget down under $1,000… book advances for most first-time authors aren’t as massive a s most people think!

Anyhow, that’s part one. We hope to bring you part two, in which we compare the results of the downsizing project about a month from now, in time for our fiftieth birthday… wow. Has it really been 50 orbits around ole Sol?



  1. Pat Agnew says:

    Hi David. Downsizing is always interesting. On my way down from a 12.5” PortaBall, I find that my most-used scope is my travel scope, a One Sky 130mm reflector. It is most-used BECAUSE it travels, and the skies at home (Fort Myers, FL) are pretty light polluted. Of course my Orion 10×50 Ultraviiew Gino’s aremy most-used of all time!

  2. David Dickinson says:

    Yeah, I’m pretty happy with my new 5″ Mak. It made its first airline trip to the Nebraska Star Party last week.

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