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M42, The Orion Nebula I've always liked astrophotography, but it always seemed so expensive to get into, beyond short wide angle exposures. But, without a tracking mount, there's no way to do an exposure longer than 15 seconds or thereabouts 35mm.
I'd have to buy a heavy-duty tripod, a ball mount, and an alignment scope, too. Or, buy a telescope mount with a guide motor, which puts you back roughly as much. Plus, if I had to spend the cash, I'd rather spend it on a better telescope or camera lenses, not an extremely specialized camera mount.
So, that shelved my dreams until recently. Once, I had run across the idea of a barn door trackerwhich seemed like a clever but more importantly a cheap solution to longer exposures. However, the basic design can only do short exposures, and the dual arm tracker invented by Dave Trott required a lot of relatively fine fabrication that I wasn't too sure if I could pull off.
In light of that, I forgot about them for a while. Then, I saw the Cloudbait observatory tracker buildhandwriting after effects tutorial free introduces a more elegant solution: I tried and failed to make sense of the cloudbait excel spreadsheet, which he used to calculate his step rates, but decided to try building my own anyways.
I looked through my collection of electronic bits 'n bobs, and found a stepper and its worm drive in an old HP printer carcass; a serious shortcut. Ordered a camera ball mount and A stepper drivermade a pivot for the salvaged stepper, made a pivot nut, then bought some wood, blah, blah, work, math, etc and then I had this tracker dingus.
It's an isosceles-type barn door tracker pivot on motor and drive nut with AltAzimuth adjustments, as it was to be mounted on a stand without any adjustments rather than an expensive tripod. An ATTiny85 is the brains of the operation, running off a precalculated table for step rate vs.
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I've been able to make two minute exposures at mm with room to go longer. I've been having some issues earlier in the run at that focal length, but I think I've gotten those fixed, pending testing clouds. Shorter focal lengths have been bang on over 5 minutes at any point, though.
Design Mechanical design is nothing fancy - the tracker is just two hinged boards being pushed apart by a threaded rod, driven by a stepper motor. A finderscope is mounted near the hinge, and a ball mount is plopped in the middle of it the location of the ball mount does not particularly matter - took me forever to figure that out!
Another piece of threaded rod controls the altitude of the tracker and the final bit of rod is used to rotate the base of the mount azimuth - my workaround for not wanting to buy a proper tripod. The microcontroller is what makes this mount special, and lets it actually track for any extended period of time.
Polaris's altitude is roughly equivalent to your latitude.
Considerations for building your own: The precision of fabricating the tracker is less important than your ability to measure what you've done.
If you are going to build axes, you only don't really need all that much travel - they're for fine alignment. That I ended up with so much adjustment was just a happy accident. Keep in mind the altitude adjustment needs to cover the range where polaris normally is, though.
Down in Texas, that's about 30 degrees. See the map to the right - Polaris's altitude is roughly equivalent to your latitude. Remember that everything I'm talking about is in the context of me being able to control the motor ratePort Manteaux churns out silly new words when you feed it an idea or two.
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