Recieved Merit Award, RTMC 2004!!!

Click On the Pictures for a Higher Resolution View 


Above photo taken by Peter Abrahams at RTMC 2004.  Janes original string scope (now Peter Abrahams) is the red one in the background.


As far as I know, the first string telescope using this principle was built by me for a friend of mine named Jane (it's the red one in above photo).  This was in 1998.  The link to this telescope web page has propagated through the ATM community, I still receive emails about it.  Since then, I've seen several other successful string telescopes.  In the end, Jane sold the 16 inch scope to Peter Abrahams, current president of Rose City Astronomers.

Soon after I published the web page about Janes 16 inch String Scope,  Matt Vartanian improved the design by adding a 3rd pole, and placing them at the apex of the strings.  As you can see, I adopted this idea on the 28 inch.

How did I come up with the idea of a string telescope design?  One day in about 1996, I was brainstorming about a new telescope design at our lunch hour at Technical Marine Service.  We have several amateur astronomers here.  One person who is not an astronomer, jokingly commented:  "Dan, the next thing you know, you're going to build an inflatable telescope!!".  This got me thinking, because I figured you actually could make an inflatable telescope, if the rubber inflatable rings were held in place by kevlar strings.  This serendipity event led me to the string telescope design.


The following paragraph was taken from the original "Janes 16 inch string scope" web page.

To further explain the concept, imagine two strings anchored in your garage floor about 2 feet apart, and tied together about 5 feet in the air. Grab the knot with your finger, pull the strings taut, and now you can only move the string in an arc, forward and back, not left to right. Now make another pair of strings, and anchor them to the floor, 120 deg's apart from the first pair. Grab the knot with your other hand, and it also is only able to move in it's own arc, 120 deg's from the first arc. Add a third pair another 120 deg's apart, and have your imaginary friend hold it at its knot, and it too has its own arc. Now tie the three knots together with a secondary cage, and now the only way to move the secondary cage is to slack a string. Keep enough tension on it, and it will stay in the same place relative to the garage floor. Now it should be easy to see how it would work on a telescope.

This has five advantages over a truss tube telescope:

1. It will be lighter, you would need at least three pairs of trusses to do the same thing. These trusses can be pretty light if you use expensive carbon fiber, but will certainly be much heavier than string and two spring poles.

2. It is much quicker to set up. The strings are always connected when the telescope is not in use. To set up the telescope, simply grab the secondary cage and extend it, and then insert the two (or three) spring loaded side poles.

3. No collimation is necessary after setup, as the fiberglass strings do not stretch, and will always position the secondary cage to exactly the same place.

4. Less wind resistance.

5. Simplifies the secondary holder design, as the secondary adjustment (in relation to the primary mirror) is done with the strings.

Keep 4 things in mind if you intend to make a successful string telescope:
1. Use low stretch string, and double it over many times.  I'm using 450 PLUS Archery string, and it's doubled 32 times!

2. Use 3 pairs of strings, and 3 poles.  Using 3 poles means your secondary cage doesn't have to be as stiff, and you need 1/3 less pressure to keep the strings taut.

3. Be sure your mirror box is stiff enough not to warp with the pressure from the strings and poles.

4. Make your secondary cage as light as possible!

See links at end of this page for other string telescopes that I know about.

Here's a view of the strings, with the sheathing lifted to expose the string.


At the beginning of 2003, I decided to make a larger string scope for myself.  I talked to Steve Swayze about making a 24 inch mirror, and he said he had a 28 that needed a home once he finished it.  I told him I would provide that home.  He wasn't completed at Oregon Star Party in the summer of 2003, but I took it from him anyway, put a temporary silver coating on it, and I had a nice push around telescope at this star party that was undercorrected and had astigmatism.  It sure whetted my appetite for aperature!!  After the star party, Steve took the mirror back, and has since completed it.

My wife Roberta mentioned to me that she didn't want to climb a tall ladder to look through the telescope, thus the folded newtonian design.  I knew I might have trouble designing a good light baffle, but that didn't stop me from building it anyway.  My first baffle was a complete failure, and I thought I was in trouble.  Then, one day, just two days before oregon star party 2003, I was looking through the focuser, and noticed that my spider vanes blocked a lot of the light, so I thought about continuing the spider vanes above the secondary mirror, and also below the existing spider vane, and it turned out to be a very successful baffle.  I had to add a smaller baffle behind the secondary mirror, but the infocus star image doesn't suffer too much.  I'll be comparing this to Howard Banich's 28 inch at OSP this summer.  He's using a conventional newtonian design, so it will be an interesting comparison.

While Steve had the mirror again, I worked on finishing the telescope and designing hardware for a new control system for it. Mel Bartels Scope II software controls the hardware that I designed.

Setup Time:
One of the main advantages of a string telescope is setup time.  Since the strings are always connected, you simply have to put the poles in and "unscrew" them to make the strings tight.  This telescope lives in a dedicated utility trailer when not in use.  When I drive up to a star party, I can be observing with a telescope that is tracking the stars in 15 minutes or less!!  I think that's pretty good for a 28 inch telescope.

The spider is made out of a sandwich of two thin (.030")pieces of carbon fiber epoxied to a 1/8th inch foam plastic.  The carbon fiber is the size and shape it needs to be to support the secondary.  The 1/8th" foam plastic extends beyond the carbon fiber, both below the carbon fiber and above it, and becomes the light baffle.

The secondary mirror is not adjustable.  Instead of adjusting the secondary mirror to align it with the focuser, you do the opposite, adjust the focuser until it's in the proper place relative to the secondary.  Instead of tipping the secondary to align to the primary, you adjust the length of the 6 strings.  This is another advantage of the string telescope concept, you don't need to make an adjustable secondary mirror.

My secondary cage weighs in at about 10 lbs, including all hardware (without eyepieces or telrad).  The secondary ring is made from two rings of 2 inch foam.  I cut the rings out of the foam using a compass arrangment and a hot wire.  The two rings were glued together, then wrapped with 1 layer of carbon fiber.  The ring itself weighs in at 4 lbs. and is really stiff.

I knew I would need clutches, so I designed a clutch system that seems to work pretty nicely.  In order for the clutches to not slip during tracking or slewing, the telescope needs to be on ball bearings, the friction is provided by the clutch.  The clutches need to be adjusted so it's still easy to push the telescope, but the motors will move the telescope without slipping the clutches.  To accomplish this, my scope is a bit stiffer than I would like, but the nice thing, is, it really isn't all that stiff, I've seen a lot worse, and when you point the scope near your object, you can center it with the radio handpad.  It's really great to use.

The clutch uses teflon and ebony star formica.  I've always wondered about ebony star, and the fact the so many ATMers use it, but it really does work a lot better than regular formica.

The drive gears are timing belts turned inside out, and stretched around a disk. This makes a really economical gear.  My Azimuth gear is really a piece of particle board I routed in a circle until I could stretch the 758 tooth timing belt around it.  The particle board cost about $15, and the belt about $45.  It's 49 inches in diameter.

Why did I use gears instead of rollers?  Rollers have the advantage of low periodic error.  Rollers have a disadvantage of slipping, which isn't too much of a problem with a scope that has telescope position encoders on it, but the other main problem was how to add the friction necessary to drive the scope without slipping in azimuth, and adding instability by using the weight of the scope on the drive roller.  This is why I chose a gear for the azimuth.  I'm not worried about periodic error, it's not even noticable for visual use, and I can use Mel Bartels software to program it out anyway if I decide to try unguided astrophotography.  I did use friction for the altitude.  I'm driving one of the shafts that supports the telescope, so it drives the scope with two rollers.

The other shaft is an "idler" shaft, and is connected to the altitude shaft encoder.  Since there is little friction on this shaft, there is no detectable slippage between the shaft and the telescope altitude bearings.

The telescope assembly (side bearings, mirror frame, cell, and secondary cage) weighs in a bit less than 90 lbs.  The mirror weighs 93 pounds, total of 183 pounds to lift.  This is easy for two people, but I've created a wheelborrow arrangement so I can now set it up by myself.


Here is the altitude servo motor engaged on the altitude combination clutch/gear with the "gear" being made from a timing belt that has been turned inside out and stretched around an aluminum disk.

In this photo, notice that the shaft the altitude bearing is resting on, is connected solidly straight down to the azimuth bearing.  The middle section is called the "flex plate", as it doesn't need to be stiff at all.  It just holds the roller shafts in position (Another design by Ed Harvey).  You can also see the timing belt turned into gear for the azimuth gear.

You can see the ebony star on the face of the "gear" and you can see one of the teflon pads that's bolted to the smaller plate.

Here's a view of the altitude clutch sandwich.

The mirror cell point position was determined from PLOP.  The mirror is collimated from the front end.  I made a long 9/16 socket (it's about 6 feet long) by welding a socked to the end of a 1/2 inch conduit.  You can collimate the scope while looking through the eyepiece.  You can see the bottom end of one of the collimation bolts on the right hand side of the above picture.

The disk at the center of the mirror is a 3 inch aluminum disk that is slightly cone shaped, it's really thin at the edge and it's 3/8" thick in the middle.  It is Siliconed to the mirror, and has a hollow lamp socket thread which you can see sticking out the back of the mirror cell.  There is a aluminum large keeper washer on the end of the shaft.  This is setup was made really lightweight to keep the mirror from stressing with the weight of this keeper mechanism.  This is my insurance for my mirror, in case someone moves the telescope altitude down too low.

Here is the circuit board for the two servo motors, and also for the other two telescope shaft encoders.
Right Side Top: 12-24 volt D.C. power
Right Side Middle: RS232 Serial Port
Right Side Bottom: Hand Pad Controller
Left Side Top: Altitude/Dec Servo Motor and Encoder
Left Side Middle: Azimuth/RA Servo Motor and Encoder
Left Side Bottom: Telescope encoders (both Altitude and Azimuth)

Other Pictures:

The base is made out of two 2 inch rings of styrafoam, which were fiberglassed.

You can see the protoype HandPad Reciever hanging from the side bearing.  It works great!

Another view of the baffle, and unmovable secondary.  It's adjusted by string lenth, and the focuser position instead of adjusting the secondary.

Looking down the tube end.  The strings look like they're loose.  Really they're tight, it's just the outside sheathing that's loose.


Here's two photos taken through the focuser. The one on the left is centered in the focuser.  Notice no light from the park setting is seen.  The one on the right is offset, so you can see part of the light baffle, but again, no park!

Pictures taken at Hammerle Park in West Linn, Oregon, on 5-23-04

Stolen Ideas:
I think Greg Babcock made the first telescope with the side bearings similar to mine.

A co-worker at Technical Marine, Ed Harvey invented the flex plate design that uses a solid connection between 4 contact points on the altitude bearings straight down through to the ground board.  This creates a remarkably stable telescope.  I've seen this idea used a lot since then.

Ed also helped me with the mirror cell design, and many other ideas were brainstormed with him.  He's currently making a 14" telescope.

Matt Vartanian

Craig Combes   Wow, a 16" airline transportable and only weighs 27 lbs!!!

Micheal D.

Doug Tanaka's 12 inch

Craig Colvins 8 inch string travel scope.

The following
were emailed to me by Peter Abrahams:

--6 inch by Charlie Wickes, at RTMC 2000
--13 inch f6 by Kim Hyatt & William Kelley; RTMC 98 & 99, flex mirror

--13 inch by Michael Lindner  rebuilt 13" coulter

and these three that are in progress, or were a couple years ago:
--Chuck Faytak   2, 16 inch in progress
--John Swenson   in progress
--Robert S. Williams   completed

Tom Simmons made a nice 12.5 inch F6.  He found my website, and emailed me.  He doesn't have a web page, but here's a couple of pictures:
Picture 1
Picture 2

If you know of more, let me know and I'll add them to the list