Well, in short, it will be a private observatory located in Marathon, Texas that supports remote telescope use over the Internet. This facility will support a virtual astronomy club and provide telescope time to members only. Only people that pledge during our project offering will be able to use these telescopes. We also share telescope time with our affiliate SkyTitan who supplies the educational content and collaboration opportunities we provide.
Why are we building Galaxy Shed?
Outside of the fact that it is really cool and a blast to do …….. , it’s because so many people have asked us to. That’s right. We have had hundreds (maybe thousands) of individuals ask us over the years if they could use our on-line telescopes that we have developed for education. We have a lot of experience at this and have been doing this successfully with teachers and students for over 15 years. People love astronomy and they want to learn it. And so many people buy a telescope and rarely use it. Either it’s too difficult to set up and take down, too expensive, too technical, or there is just no one to help. And if you do have a telescope and a great location to use it, “what am I looking at”? Our desire is to build an observatory, with great equipment, in a great location, “and help people learn how (and why) to use it”! Our experience has shown that a collaborative learning community is a great way to learn astronomy and technology. We want to leverage our success and experience to bring astronomy to thousands of people in a fun and rewarding way.
What are we building?
What are we building? It’s in the name. Galaxy S H E D. But really, SHED doesn’t do justice to what is being constructed. There will be a 6 pier, roll-off roof observatory that is 16’ x 24’. There is also an 8’ x 16’ control room. This will include large scale UPS battery systems and emergency power generators to run all of the computers, telescopes, and network equipment to ensure that the facility will be protected in the event of a power failure. A multiple camera, motion detection, and intrusion detection security system will be installed. Because of the amount of data that will be generated by all of the images that will be taken, a small data-center style server rack will be located in the control room that will house servers, backup devices, and redundant storage arrays. This infrastructure will provide Galaxy Shed members a private cloud to access images, collaborate on their work, and share ideas and experiences. We will also have a small data center environmental monitoring system to provide complete monitoring of the observatory. A SCADA control system will be installed to control the roof opening and closing, control lighting and environmental systems, and to perform routine maintenance on the emergency generator. The observatory will have both a heating and cooling system. The heat is used in the winter months to help remove frost build up on the telescopes after a night of observing. The AC system will be utilized to a greater extent in that it is important to keep the telescopes the same temperature as the night time temperatures. Keeping the telescopes cool is critical in obtaining good images and allowing quicker access time. Through our affiliate, we have two telescopes systems. These will be updated with the new, more accurate, pointing and guidance control electronics. New CCD cameras will be added that will provide for higher resolutions and faster download times. Three new, state-of-the-art, telescope systems will be purchased. These will include better optical tube assemblies that will provide better optical quality. Bandwidth is also very critical to the operation of Galaxy Shed. We have worked out with the local Internet Service Provider the design for a dedicated wireless system that will deliver a very large Internet service to the observatory. Our past experience with highly reliable, commercial grade wireless systems has made this possible. Rest assured, these are not your everyday Wi-Fi wireless systems we are talking about. These are very spendy, commercial-grade, radios that will provide a Point-to-Point Internet connection with nearly 7 nine’s of reliability. They will be capable of delivering nearly 150 MB of full duplex, symmetric speeds. To keep an eye on the sky, a web based weather station will be installed. Also, an all-sky cam will provide 180 degree views to watch for approaching clouds. All of this will ensure that Galaxy Shed members will have access to a reliable, secure remote telescope facility.
Why Marathon Texas?
There are a couple of reasons for selecting this site to build our remote observatory. First, we want a very dark site. Marathon Texas is a Class I site for darkness. This is as dark as it gets. The darker the site, the deeper you can look into the cosmos. Second, we want to be as far south as possible in the Continental US. Marathon Texas is one of the most southerly locations in the Continental US that has a Class I site. Yes, you can get farther south in Florida, but the light pollution is terrible!
A southerly location is good for two reasons:
1) the air is more stable at this latitude which provides for better imaging,
2) you can image more objects by being able to see farther into the southern hemisphere. We could of course go a little bit farther south than Marathon, but then we run out of civilization. Remember, our telescopes are accessed over the Internet so we need to purchase an Internet connection and electricity from somewhere. In addition, we hope to have star party events throughout the year, so remaining within the Continental US and being near a community is important to facilitate these events. Marathon is a lovely, small community and a very relaxing get-away! Check it out at:http://www.visitmarathon.com/.
Finally, this part of the US has over 300 nights per year of clear skies. Nothing is more frustrating than to have a beautiful telescope for looking at the night sky and have to cover it up for the night because you are clouded out. A major bummer! Having access to a great telescope, at a great location, nearly year round, and accessible from the comfort of your home is an awesome thing! That is, if you love astronomy.
How does it work?
This is the coolest part! The telescopes are permanently mounted in a roll-off roof observatory. This is basically a small garage, or a really big shed that has a roof that rolls off to one side to expose the telescopes to the night sky. You simply schedule your observing time, log in to the telescope interface via an Internet connection, and begin taking images of celestial wonders! You can simply take pictures of deep sky objects or immerse yourself in hunting for super novae or discovering comets. Most importantly, you have control of the telescope and the imaging system. With our interface, you have both the telescope and the CCD camera right at your finger tips. Almost every other on-line telescope provider has you simply upload your targets and exposure times to “the system” and you wait for your pictures to show up at some download site. Galaxy Shed can do that too but it is really boring! Now here is the best part………. you are not alone. With Galaxy Shed, you have an observatory assistant right there with you. This assistant is both a technician and an astronomy educator. They can provide you with a guided tour of the night sky or simply be there for technical assistance. This is a feature that is unique to Galaxy Shed.
What is our goal?
Galaxy Shed has one goal in mind……. to enable people to learn astronomy in an engaging way. We are about teaching people astronomy with technology in a “hands-on” setting. That’s it. Now, there are other on-line telescope providers out there. And we will confess that their optical systems and cameras are a little bit better in some cases. Those systems are typically configured for high-end imaging. We do however use the same (or equivalent) telescope mounts, which is the single most important component in Internet astronomy. If you are an experienced astronomical imager, then take a look at some of the commercial options that are out there. Most of them are great facilities with good features. But if you want to learn astronomy and be part of a private use facility, then Galaxy Shed is for you.
We kind of alluded to this in the “Why Marathon Texas” section above. To steal a real estate term, “location, location, location”! So we have established that Galaxy Shed will be built in one of the last remaining great sites in the US. But here are some other benefits:
1) Access to great equipment. You will get access to some advanced, amateur telescope equipment. Each of our telescope systems costs around $30,000. The configuration of our telescopes is even used in some professional and university settings.
2) Ease of use. We must admit that it is fun to own your own telescope. But if you don’t have your own observatory, it can get to be a pain to set up and tear down your telescope every night you want to use it. Also, if you are going to take pictures with your telescope, it can take a long time to get it polar aligned so that it will track well enough for long exposures. And remember that “cloud” thing we talked about…..?!?! With a Galaxy Shed membership, you get access to a great telescope, in a great location, that you can quickly access from the comfort of wherever you and your computer may be located. And remember, Galaxy Shed will have a limited amount of potential users. So your ability to schedule time to use the telescope will not be in competition with everybody on the web!
3) You are not alone. Galaxy Shed members have the support and guidance of a real human while they are using the telescope. No need to submit a help desk ticket for assistance. Just put on your headset and start talking. We are right there for you.
4) Flexibility. The Galaxy Shed telescope can be used in a variety of ways. We prefer that members use the telescope in “remote” mode. This is where you have the mouse and literally drive the telescope to a target by pointing and clicking. But, you can also use the telescopes in “robotic” mode. This is where a user builds a scripted “observing session” from a graphic interface, uploads the script, and lets the telescope do the work. This mode of operation is typically used for doing research, like looking for super novae or hunting for asteroids or comets. Many advanced users would utilize this mode of operation. As you learn about the night sky and what the telescopes are capable of, you may want to set a goal to reach this level of sophisticated use. Another aspect of flexibility with Galaxy Shed telescopes is the types of images you can take. Most people that want to learn the night sky are happy to take black and white images. These are very easy to take and require shorter exposure times. This also allows you to take more images during an observing session. If however you desire to take awesome, deep-sky color images, you can do that too. These require longer imaging sessions and some extra work with imaging software. But with the level of equipment of Galaxy Shed telescopes and our great location, you can take beautiful deep-sky color images.
Risks and challenges
A proven track record
Every project has its potential problems. We want you to understand that the Galaxy Shed project will have very few of them. We have over fifteen years of successful experience in providing on-line telescope infrastructures. Our affiliate, SkyTitan, has one of the most successful on-line, educational telescope programs there is. They have telescopes in WY and Australia and have had thousands of teachers and students successfully utilizing them. Every grade level from K thru 14 has accessed SkyTitan alliance telescopes from several different countries. Some students have had such great success that they have even been published in scientific papers. With such a proven track record, every aspect of providing on-line telescopes has the benefit of years of experience. In fact, the Galaxy Shed project was initiated to provide dedicated amateur astronomers a venue for sharing in the same success that the many schools have. SkyTitan’s infrastructure is nearly always fully subscribed to support its educational clientle. Many interested amateur astronomers have not been able to schedule time on SkyTitan telescopes. We also realize that the commercially oriented on-line telescope companies tend to have scheduling conflicts and high usage fees. So in order to offer many amateur astronomers an affordable opportunity to access excellent telescopes systems in a private venue, the Galaxy Shed project was developed.
As mentioned, the working partnership with SkyTitan provides many years of experience. Galaxy Shed also has other assets already in hand. These include: 1) property in Marathon, Texas for construction of the observatory, 2) computers, software, and network equipment to support the required IT infrastructure, 3) a number of telescope and CCD systems to begin operation once the observatory is operational, 4) working alliances with businesses in Marathon, Texas to support operations, 5) established web hosts to support the required Internet presence.
Even with all of the experience, expertise, and assets in hand, some challenges could develop. The biggest of these would be missing the June 2013 deadline for availability due to delays from the equipment vendors. We will use some of the best mounts, optical tubes, and cameras available to the amateur and semi-professional market. These products are in high demand and delivery dates from the suppliers could go beyond the estimated 90 days. Also, because of Marathon’s remote location, some construction delays could occur due to availability of materials. None of these items represent problems that would not allow the project to be completed. They would only force the date of availability to be pushed back. This has been addressed in the budget for the entire project by providing two years of operational expenses to ensure the full delivery obligations to the pledges.
Your pledge of $25 provides you with membership to Galaxy Shed. Galaxy Shed provides telescope time to only its members and affiliates. If you want to be involved with this exclusive club of amateur astronomers and science professionals, but are not yet ready to utilize the telescopes, then you can simply secure your membership with a pledge of $25. Once our project is funded, no additional members will be allowed. Galaxy Shed members receive: 1) Ability to purchase telescope time , 2) Access to the Galaxy Shed private web site for news, updates, and learning communities, 3) Participation in web events, training, and collaboration on amateur astronomy projects.
Pledge levels from $35 and up will include a Galaxy Shed membership, telescope time, AND (most importantly), priority points for future telescope time! That’s right; increasing pledge levels buy you more telescope time for the first year and additional priority points for telescope time starting in year two. A $35 pledge will provide you: 1) Galaxy Shed membership, 2) 1 hour of telescope time, 3) 1 priority point on future purchases of telescope time.
$70 and up will include a Galaxy Shed membership, telescope time, and priority points for future telescope time. A $70 pledge will provide you: 1) Galaxy Shed membership, 2) 2 hours of telescope time, 3) 2 priority points on future purchases of telescope time.
$175 and up will include a Galaxy Shed membership, telescope time, priority points for future telescope time. A $175 pledge will provide you: 1) Galaxy Shed membership, 2) 5 hours of telescope time, 3) 5 priority points on future purchases of telescope time.
$350 and up will include a Galaxy Shed membership, telescope time, priority points for future telescope time. A $350 pledge will provide you: 1) Galaxy Shed membership, 2) 10 hours of telescope time, 3) 10 priority points on future purchases of telescope time.
$700 and up will include a Galaxy Shed membership, telescope time, priority points for future telescope time. In addition, we believe that once you commit to this level, you are more than just a casual night sky observer. 20 hours of Galaxy Shed telescope time represents over three nights of dedicated observation. You are either a serious imager or someone who is interested in astronomy education and research. Therefore, pledges from $700 and up have access to our affiliate’s astronomy education programs. A $700 pledge will provide you: 1) Galaxy Shed membership, 2) 20 hours of telescope time, 3) 20 priority points on future purchases of telescope time, 4) access to affiliate educational materials, 5) enhanced web site features.
$1,750 is our highest pledge level. Users at this level are considered serious amateur astronomers and even semi-professional. Our affiliate has established working relationships with professional astronomers in multiple countries for the purpose of collaborating on professional astronomy research projects. Data for these projects are obtained from telescopes that range up to 2 meters in size and are located at some of the best observatory locations in the world. If you are serious about astronomy and want to be a part of actual scientific research, then this pledge level is for you! A $1,750 pledge receives all benefits from the $1,050 level and: 1) 50 hours of telescope time, 2) 50 priority points on future purchases of telescope time, 3) access to scientific research data collaborations, 4) personal SkyTitan email account.