NURO Auto-Guider



* Project Description


* Project Links

* Contact Information

* Current Tasks






Project Description

The National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO) Auto-Guider is an automated tracking system devised for use on Lowell Observatory's 31-inch telescope. The project was completed by four mechanical engineering students at Northern Arizona University, as part of their undergraduate work. Lowell Observatory is located in Flagstaff, Arizona on Anderson Mesa. The 31-inch telescope was seldom used, as it was only capable of three-minute exposure times. The Auto-Guider would be constructed to allow for remote, computer-controlled tracking of moving objects, and would give exposure times of four to eight hours. Originally, the telescope could only view planets, and with the Auto-Guider installed, it will be able to track asteroids, comets, and other objects moving in relation to the celestial sphere.


Project Sponsor

Two groups, Lowell Observatory and NURO, sponsor the project. Lowell Observatory is the owner of the 31-inch telescope, while NURO is responsible for the instruments attached to it, along with finding students to use the telescope. Funding for the construction of the Auto-Guider will be taken care of by NURO, and a preliminary budget was $14000. The design proposed by MDI is currently around $25000, not including the machining costs. A revised budget will be included in the revised web page.


Auto-Guider Operation

The system will involve the use of a charge-couple device (CCD) camera to track the observed object in relation to a guide star. The positioning of the CCD camera will be computer-controlled, and will be responsible for keeping the guide star in the center of the camera aperture. The positioning of the camera will be facilitated by highly precise positioning stages, accurate to 3 microns (1 x 10-6 meters). The light from the guide star will be directed into the camera by a 45 pickoff mirror. The positioning of the camera will be done with stepper motors, which operate in 0.9 rotational increments.

Project Requirements

The design requires only detailed drawings of the Auto-Guider assembly. These drawings were completed using AutoCAD software to allow for easy distribution and reproduction of the shop drawings. Along with the drawings, the students were responsible for constructing a bill of materials and a budget breakdown. Due to the very precise nature of the project, no actual fabrication was done, as our machining capabilities were not up to snuff. A NURO employee and NAU machinist, Charlie Britton, will conduct the actual construction of the project. The assembly is set to begin in late May or early June, and should be completed by September of 2000.


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Matrix Design and Instrumentation (MDI)

The design team consisted of four graduating mechanical engineering students, collectively referred to as MDI.

















The MDI Team: Tiffany, Kyler, Kevin and Lance



* Kevin Richardson is the MDI Team leader, and he is responsible for overseeing meetings, and assigning tasks.


* Lance Brown is in charge of client communication, the budget, and the timekeeping.


* Tiffany Norris is in charge of documentation, overseeing the deliverables production.


* Kyler York is responsible for web page construction, documentation assistance, and computer modeling.



The MDI team is very loosely structured, with members helping to get the final project done, not just their individual responsibilities. This has helped to form a very strong team, which provides excellent work.



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Project Links

* College of Engineering and Technology at NAU

* National Undergraduate Research Observatory

* Lowell Observatory

* Northern Arizona University


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Contact Information

E-mail address

MDI can be reached via email at If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.


The client contacts at Lowell are Ted Dunham, an instrumentation specialist, and Kathy Eastwood with NURO at NAU. They would be happy to entertain any questions about the auto-guider, but keep in mind they are very busy people



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Current Tasks

* Completion of the CAD drawings: The CAD drawings are near completion, but there is still some work to be done. The drawings need to be placed on a template, and fully dimensioned to ease machining. These drawings need to be completed for the critical design review, with some modifications coming shortly afterwards.


* Critical Design Review: Some details of the design are still being worked out, but the majority of the work has been completed. On May 11th, 2000, MDI will be meeting with members of NURO and Lowell to hash out the remaining details. After the meeting, the drawings will be updated, and then the completed project will be handed over to the clients for implementation.


* Web Page Revisions: After the upcoming CDR, web page revisions will be made to show the final design and a parts list. This should be completed by May 20th of 2000.


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Last revised: May 9, 2000