At SCALE 6x in February, one of the first things on the expo floor to grab my attention was the scaffolding of a large telescope jutting up towards the ceiling in the far corner of the room. The device belonged to the Linux Astronomy project, which built the entire system from scratch.
The nonprofit project is building a large-scale, computer-controlled reflector telescope, that will eventually be accessible remotely via the Internet. As described at linuxastronomy.org, the goal is "scientific grade" device. Volunteers are designing the actual telescope, from the main body to the mounting system and motor control -- even grinding the mirror.
That's challenge enough for most do-it-yourselfers, but this team is also implementing all of the software required to operate and control the telescope: drivers for the motors, manipulation of the telescope settings themselves, the "actuation" system that aims and tracks sky objects, and, eventually, control of secondary systems like dome rotation and weather tracking.
It is even working on integrating a seismometer to detect ground vibrations, work that might prove useful in non-astronomic projects, too. And the team involve school kids in the process, in the hope of fostering their interest in science.
I talked to project coordinator Eugene Clement about designing telescopes and about how the Linux Astronomy group operates.
The telescope at SCALE was just a scale model (no pun intended); once finished, the full-sized hardware will be housed at a permanent location, and users will be able to control it remotely. You can read more about the project at linuxastronomy.org.