PAN013: Build Thread for Jonah Rolfness

Hi guys!

I’m Jonah Rolfness, a student from Cave Creek Arizona beginning a PANOPTES Unit, and wanted to start a build thread as well as ask some questions before moving forward. Currently, I have most of the parts required for the Camera Box and have begun cutting/marking the mounting plates while I wait for the actual box to arrive. I went for two SL2 cameras, which both seem to be functioning well after taking a few test photographs. I’m excited to move forward and begin construction but was wondering whether anyone has opted to use Imperial measurements for the plates over the recommended Metric, as I have access to Imperial bits/taps immediately and would have to purchase metric sets. My current understanding is that the M6 bolts are simply used to connect the plates to the box and each other, and specific sizes won’t matter as long as they fit, the exception being the two 1/4in bolts used to mount the cameras.

I haven’t started much in the way of control systems but will be ordering the computer and subsequent parts in order to start reviewing the PANOPTES system code and the environment it will run on.

I will keep you all updated as I start construction of the box, as well as any further questions I have.



Hello, Jonah,

Welcome to the forum. It is good to hear that you are starting a build.

I used imperial hardware - flathead 1/4-20 screws instead of the recommended M6 cap screws, living outside of Albuquerque, NM. I used flathead screws instead of cap screws since it is easier to get a countersink tool than a counterbore tool (which would be best for cap screws). If you use flathead screws the hole locations will be more critical, but I like precision anyway.

The only point of real difficulty was making the 4" holes in the camera box. I got the originally recommended box for the cameras which is made of hard plastic. It is not only impossible but dangerous to attempt to use a 4" hole saw. You just can not hold the box and drill steady enough to prevent the drill from grabbing. I marked the boundaries for those holes then drilled a 1/2" or so hole inside the edge then carefully cut near the boundary with a variable speed reciprocating jig saw, then carved out the rest of the material with knives, files, or whatever. Keep in mind that the 4" hole sizes and locations are not critical - there is a lot of clearance that will be covered by screen material later on (to keep the bugs out and such).

Feel free to ask if you have any questions or problems. I am a retired machinist.

Doug LeGrand

Fabulous news, I’m so happy to hear you’re getting a good start going.

I’m sorry to say we are late on updating the website… I convinced Nem to design a new set of plates for the larger box, to make it easier to fit various sizes of camera. Fortunately the SL2 is only around 5mm wider than the SL1, so there is room with the older plates.

For background, a key reason I wanted larger plates is that there is very little room for the screws. Since you’ve not yet drilled holes, please take a look at the new plate designs and use them for inspiration.

Regarding metric vs. imperial, either will work fine.


Great to see you jumping into the deep end Jonah.

I agree with most comments above. Essentially your only goal is to bolt the plates together. So put holes where ever makes sense. Imperial is fine too. I don’t mind using either metric or imperial screws but I really prefer measuring distances in metric (for very obvious reasons).

I originally proposed the hole saw as Ive used them many times before. I find them super simple to use but you need to know what you are doing. Ill be making another unit for Caltech in a month. When I do, Ill make a very short video of me using the hole saw and how I did it so others can choose from holesaw, drill and dremel or drill and jigsaw. I will say this though, regardless how you do this, this is not a part you can easily mount on a drill press incase you want to machine it that way. This almost certainly has to be drilled with a cordless drill which means its typically less precise and requires a different mentality. I had a lot of training working on a building for several years so I have no issue with this type of work. More on this soon.

Id be interested to see how much space you have left in your box when you mount the SL2s as they are a little bigger.
Anyway, happy building

Hi guys,

The build has been going smoothly so far, with more updates on the camera box soon. My Intel NUC has arrived and I am currently going through the process of setting up Ubuntu and the panoptes account, following the git setup page as well as the thread “Setting up Intel NUC Computer” on here highlighting the steps. From the thread I see that its recommended to name the PC the corresponding to the unit number, and was wondering what number my unit is. Otherwise, all is going good and I’m excited to start looking at POCS.



I’ll bug Wilfred to assign a number to your unit.

Sorry for the delay in getting to this. Unless you have some objection, you are lucky number PAN013! :slight_smile: Let me know if that is okay and it will be set in stone. Also feel free to give your unit in a nickname.

Great job in getting going!

13 is perfect, thanks!

Sorry for the radio silence recently, I’ve made quite a bit of progress and have been busy playing around with the equipment. I finished the camera box using the newer plate schematics after seeing that they fit the bigger box better, so the old plates are currently only being used as backups. The cameras fit inside the box nicely, and all screw locations are great except for the centered top - middle plate screw, which you can see in the picture is somewhat covered by the camera. It’s not a huge deal and just requires you to tighten that one first, but those using SL2 cameras should take note to move it over. The SL2 on the left side of the box is pretty close to the side, and absolutely requires you use a right angle USB cord. If there isn’t a pro to the straight cables, I would replace the current ones on the parts list with the angled cables instead of having them listed as optional.

For cutting the 4in diameter holes, I used a couple of methods to see what worked the best, but ultimately found using a jigsaw was by far the easiest. After cutting I used a Dremel tool along with sandpaper to clean up the edges

I’ve gotten the mount all set up and attempted to take some pictures these past couple of nights, but ran into a few problems along the way. The first night my photos came out blurry, which I then discovered the infinity focus sometimes goes past what you want. After doing some research I’ve been focusing by using the live viewer and pointing to a bright star. My other issue has been that the goto tracking of the mount has been off after the first night. I can go into the specifics in another post as it doesn’t relate much to the panoptes project and I have a few things to troubleshoot first. It did make me wonder how POCS handles tracking though. Does it use some sort of plate solving software to figure out where it is in the sky or does it rely on a manual alignment when setup? The software I’m currently using to control the cameras is digicam and for exposures, their astronomy mode.

I’m still working on getting the software installed, and hit the same error @clegrand was encountering. I’m currently doing a fresh install with anaconda installed before starting the POCS installation to see if it was simply a directory pointing issue or something along those lines. I next plan to weatherproof the mount and start looking at electronics.

I’ll keep you posted,


Awesome progress, Jonah! Way to go! Fantastic! :smile:

Woohoo! What fabulous progress you’ve made Jonah.

And thank you for the feedback about the central screw and the tight fit on the right-hand camera. That is clearly not what we want. I’ll bring this to Nem’s attention (he designed the plates, though I did sketch and review the design, so not blaming him). Note that you can disassemble the plates and add a new hole for the central screw, thus providing you with an easier and probably more secure assembly.

Regarding “Infinity” on the lenses, that is a common problem with cameras, not particular to the Rokinon lenses. We’re having discussions about providing some software to assess the quality of the focus, enabling folks to reach a better focus than squinting at the LCD on the back of the camera in the box. Josh wrote software for this purpose for another project, and we’re going to see about adapting it to PANOPTES.

About the tracking, note that if you move the mount (e.g. take it inside after you’re done observing), you’ll need to repeat the polar alignment process, and reset the Zero (aka Home) position of the mount using the hand controller. The PANOPTES software does use plate solving between exposures to check on the tracking, and to compute adjustments. But, it is best if the polar alignment is as close to correct as possible.

I’m unfamiliar with Digicam. If you think it will be useful for others to know about, please consider writing a post about it.

Congratulations on your excellent progress,

Regarding weatherproofing the mount, I can only speak to this a little bit as I didn’t go through the complete process due to having the generous offer of a dome from Wheaton College (Norton, MA). But, I did do a couple of the steps and found that using the rubber tube (orange colored fuel line) was a total pain. For the second bearing, I switched to using Sugru (moldable plastic), which was vastly easier.

Hi Jonah
Fantastic work!

Im a little confused about the bolt colliding with the camera. Please see the following image. This is the new larger enclosure and the new plates using the SL1. Clearly from the CAD there is no collision. Also a lot of space around both cameras.

Looking at your image, it seems that you are using the older, smaller box. I can tell because you dont have much space around the cameras. Did you use the new plate design, with the smaller box and the larger SL2 cameras? I just want to clarify this point.

The box that I have is the NBF-32324, which I’m pretty sure if the newer and bigger box, and the plates are the new longer ones that I was pointed to in this thread. I think that the discrepancy is mainly because of the larger size of the SL2 cameras compared to the SL1. I can definitely make a new hole that doesn’t clip with the camera and plan to do so but I haven’t prioritized it as its a relatively easy fix. As for the camera being close to the side, it does fit with the right angle USB cord, so I’m not sure its an issue with the SL2 unless you want more clearance.

Otherwise, I ended up fixing the tracking issues I was having last night and learned a good lesson about assuming lat/long was correct. Turns out that while I thought I was polar aligning with Polaris, I was actually off by about 10 degrees lat and was aligned with a different star. The only other issue I’ve had with the mount is when slewing to an object low in the horizon, sometimes the declination axis will get “stuck”. The mount will make a sound like its trying to continue slewing and the Dec axis won’t move, and tracking will end up getting off by the amount it believes Dec slewed even though it didn’t. I don’t think the box was hitting anything, and I the only other thing I can think of is that the balance is off. I’m going to take a closer look at it tonight to see if I can recreate it.

The cameras seem to be working great, and I’ve got several images messing around with exposure times and image stacking.


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Hi Jonah
After your comment we went downstairs and taped our SL1s for the plate we have marked ready to machine in the approximately correct spots. As you see the blue dots indicate the position of the holes we need to drill to screw the plate to the one below. You can see the blue dot is clearly visible between the two cameras. Also, you can see there is plenty of space on the right hand side of the right hand most camera. So the fact your bolt hole is below the left camera and there isnt much space on the right hand side of the right camera could be due to you using the SL2 instead of the SL1. However, I dont think this has anything to do with size. The SL2 is 5-10 mm larger in each direction. This is too small to account for what you are seeing. Another possibility is that the 1/4"-20 screw hole to mount that camera is in a different position then it was on the SL1. This could be possible. This would explain the large shift you are seeing. Either way, if it works its fine.

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Hey guys,

It’s been a bit since my last update and I wanted to fill everyone in about my progress as of late. I managed to correct my NUC installation and get pytest to successfully run, following the instructions in “Status of NUC Setup for PAN005” and the changes provided by the Caltech team. I also had to change the line: “source activate panoptes-env” that the install script automatically put into .profile. I’m not sure why this is, but replacing source with conda fixed it, or “conda activate panoptes-env”. I’ve been working a bit with the VNC Viewer method of remote control, and have had some issues I’ve been working on, mainly with the application and mouse control, so I’m sticking to SSH at the moment. I’ll keep working on it though, as I think it may be an easier alternative if reliable.

As for the actual unit, weatherproofing is mostly done, with a few housekeeping items remaining as well as any modifications needed for the Arizona weather. I’m concerned about high heat, strong monsoon rain and wind, along with dust. I’m not really sure if there is anything we can do to protect against dust other than visiting the unit every so often to clean the joints, but would love to hear all of your opinions on potential workarounds. I’ll post a detailed explanation of what I’ve done as soon as I finish some small tweaks, and find the time in between school and work.

Materials for the pier of the unit are on their way, and I hope to have it fully constructed within a week or two. I’m hoping I can schedule a time with the mill at school, otherwise, I’ll stick to the drill press I have. While waiting I plan to finish up some lower priority items like installing the screen protector in the camera box.

I’m hoping to use the newest generation of the electronics and would love to hear if you all think this is the best approach vs starting with what the instructions currently show. I know the Caltech team has successfully used the new board, which looks great. Please let me know what you all think! I really want to be able to help with the project and instruction write-ups, and should be able to help with some of the tasks on the to-do list.


Hi Jonah
Great progress. Yes, please wait for the 3rd generation electronics. They are 3-4 weeks away Id say. So if you can be patient then wait for them. If you need to proceed, then you can go with generation 2.

Yeah no rush, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t expected to use the current instructions. I’m super happy with the progress on the unit, and cant wait to start getting it all put together

We 3D printed an adapter that fits on the lens with a lip that is glued to the case. This should help some with dust etc. Happy to share file or print set and send to you.


Those look great! I would love the print files to test them out.

I know I’ve been pretty quiet recently about progress, mainly due to things picking up with school and other projects. I’ve still been making progress on the unit, and recently received all the parts I needed to start working on the unit pier. Shipping took a lot longer than I was expecting for the extrusions and I wanted to make sure I was marking off of those vs the CAD files as I know some things have changed. The top plate is completed for the most part, and didn’t turn out as great as I hoped. Using my drill press I had trouble getting precision with such large holes and ended up reaming out a good portion of a few in order to make the bolts fit properly. I’m going to wait till next week for the larger plate and use my school’s mill to make things easier. If I find it necessary I’ll redo the top plate in the same manner but for now, it works.

I promised some details on my units weatherproofing a while ago which I haven’t delivered yet. I’ve been making small changes and tweaks this past month and kept deciding to wait on posting progress until I felt it was where I wanted it. I’m happy to say that I think all weatherproofing is done for the most part, with some exceptions where I would like all of your opinions on whether some changes needed to be made. Below is an album of some pictures I’ve taken.

The weatherproofing follows the same idea as the directions given, with thin metal plates covering areas of importance. I used sugru per @james.synge recommendation and found it much easier to use than rubber the tubing. I tried to keep the polar alignment scope from being blocked, which should make polar alignment easier onsight in case it’s needed. The clear plexiglass cover for the electronics housing is also removable for easy access to any cabling as well as the polar scope lens.

A concern I have is with the transition between the RA bearing shielding and the electronics case shield. I had to cut down the sides to prevent clipping, leaving a small gap between the two where rain may fall. It shouldn’t ever hit the actual bearing but may fall down into the area with the azimuth and declination adjustment knobs. Is there any need to weatherproof this section of the mount? I don’t think its likely much water will get through, but I can always add more shielding above the RA cover to account for it.

Another thing I wanted to quickly note is that before cutting sheets and fabricating protection, we should tell builders to make sure that the unit is properly orientated with respect to the RA and Dec locking handles. What I mean by this is that they should be on the opposite side of the mount than the side with weatherproofing. I only realized the significance of this about halfway through making the RA protector shield, and while I was able to change it for Dec pretty easily, I had to choose to either keep my RA lock underneath the shielding or recreate everything. I chose to keep the lock under the RA protector shield and made it so that I can reach it underneath which has worked fine for me, but it’s a good idea to make note of this for convenience for when the unit isnt hooked up to electronics that can easily move the axis.

Please let me know if you have any questions about what I’ve done and your opinions as well! Also, let me know if I missed any areas that you would like to see and I can post more pictures.