The Robert Ferguson Observatory (RFO) opened in 1997 with the Moore-Heppe 40-inch in the west wing (the only wing at that time) and it served there until Spring, 2002. In that time volunteers reported a variety of problems with using the telescope. Those problems were quantified when the mirror was tested at Lawrence Livermore Labs as part of a space telescope mirror testing program and the mirror’s figure was described as very astigmatic.The source of the astigmatism and ways to repair it were debated and tested over the next year. Alternative mounting in a new cell and corrective lenses in the optical path were both tried, without success. The mirror’s thinness made re-figuring the mirror risky.
In July 2003, a 40-inch mirror became available at a reasonable cost and the Board of the VMOA decided to embark on Project 40 – a replacement 40-inch telescope for the Moore-Heppe. The new telescope was estimated to cost no more than $25,000, including the $5,000 price of the partially completed mirror. The mirror price included a mounting cell and a secondary cage already completed. Project 40 will produce a telescope that will be mounted in the west wing of the RFO where a 24-inch altazimuth telescope has been loaned to replace the Moore-Heppe by Bill Russell. The new telescope will include the following features:
- Optical design that brings the eyepiece for observers at a constant height of no more than 48 inches. This requirement should allow the telescope to be operated with nothing other than a small step ladder on public nights.
- Altazimuth mounting to minimize the cost of mounting fabrication, computer driven mount for tracking and finding objects.
- Open truss OTA for ease of fabrication and minimizing weight.
- Designed for visual observation primarily, but allows video and CCD imaging at the image plane.
- Fits within the current envelope of the west observatory of the RFO, with remodeling of the wing as necessary to accommodate the telescope.
Project 40 will be funded by the VMOA from existing funds and from funds raised from private parties, corporations and other non-profits interested in supporting the goals of the VMOA.