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Shipping SCTs and Refractors
By Greg Nowell - 9/21/2007
Most people prefer to pack an SCT for shipping as a whole unit. Having had a bad experience with a C14 that was shipped to me and destroyed by UPS, I prefer to remove the corrector plate. For the smaller SCTs (9.25 on down) the potential torques on the corrector in shipping are significantly reduced, and one could, in the pictures below, simply ship the entire c8 as one unit in one box. However, with larger SCTs it’s a good idea to remove the corrector plate and ship it separately. Once you understand how easy it is to remove a corrector, however, you get tempted to do it even for the smaller OTAs.
The most expensive part of most shipping projects is the materials. Bubble wrap is very pricey so when people ship things to me I hoard it. The c8 shipping project below cost about $30 in materials, most of it bubble wrap. The peanuts are much cheaper. The basic principle of shipping is: make as secure a box as you can, and then put it in another box. One need not do this for everything: eyepieces and other items are much more secure in shipping than a telescope OTA.
I have lately taken to using plastic inner boxes because they offer more protection against crushing and possible penetration than simple cardboard. The inner box goes in an outer box and foam is placed to prevent direct contact with the sides. Foam peanuts will work if sprinkled on the bottom, stuffed down the side spaces, and then layered over the top; solid foam is also good. For smaller parts (focusers, refractor optical cells) I have had good results using an inexpensive plastic toolbox as the inner box.
Double-boxing is a gold standard for shippers on an insurance claim. If you are seriously into astronomy these days, and often ship things, then a required item is either your own or a borrowed digital camera. When you ship something take pictures of how you did it, step by step. When a shipper sees a double box system at work, they will likely pay the insurance claim—but you will likely not need it.
When you receive an expensive astronomical item, take pictures of the box from all sides, and then take pictures of the entire process of opening it.
Write your return name and address and the person to whom sent on a piece of paper and stash it with the optics.
The disassembly of a c8 (as a model for other SCTs) has already been shown in a previous article for Astromart, in the “advanced” how-to articles section. In the photo essay below, we have the shipping of a c8, a destroyed C14, and the packaging of a refractor objective. The main “tricks of note” in this not-too-terribly-brain-tasking job is to slip a plastic bag over the secondary mirror, and to use some optical paper or Kleenex as a boundary layer between the corrector and the packaging material.
It pains me to spend a lot of money on shipping, but unless you have all original packaging, but were I to buy a c8 (and no original boxing was available) the fact is that somewhere around $30 to $50 needs to be budgeted for boxing materials unless the seller has some appropriate materials around the house he’s willing to give away for free. For a C11 and C14, I personally would make sending the corrector double boxed, separately, a condition of the sale. Sellers may encounter some resistance from buyers on this score, which is one of the reasons why, before putting this article up, I provided disassembly/assembly pictures of a c8. It’s not hard.
An SCT is a single unit. If your corrector is lost you’re out of luck. So for insurance purposes a used SCT shipped in two units needs to have each unit insured for full value. Again, pictures will clarify the process to clueless shippers on insurance claims.
There is no universal consensus that “corrector plate removal is the way to go” for after-market shipping of an SCT, but by putting this up it is my hope that buyers and sellers will consider the tradeoffs in their shipping options.
My main comment about shipping refractors, which I have both shipped out and gotten from others, is that the people often have a hard time with the length of the tube. This is problem is directly related to the aperture and focal length, and is not really a problem at all on most telescopes four inches and smaller. To get a long enough box you often end up with something dimensioned so that makes it difficult to double-box, or pushes up shipping costs unreasonably because of over-size issues. Removing the optical cell means a shorter box, and that means a larger fatter box can go around the whole package for double-boxed security.
Removal of the focuser also shortens the tube, and when both lens cell and focuser are removed, it is amazing how small a refractor can get.
The problem is much more manageable when the lens cell is removed and packed separately. Your collimation will not be affected by removal of the lens cell, but you should ask on the relevant support group if there are any known issues. For example, on the Takahashi line there is a small set screw that tightens directly against the threads of the optical tube, so before removing the lens cell, you need to loosen that screw, or it will trash the threads as you unscrew the cell. Inspection usually shows how to do these things. My Vixen focuser is held on by screws. The Tak focuser is threaded on to the optical tube, but on the four inch version part of it can be detached and the other left on; and in the Moonlite version, a flange resides permanently on the tube and three screws detach the focuser.
The wisest course is to insure the lens cell and the OTA for the full value of the telescope, but in some cases optical tubes can be replaced at reasonable sums, so an inquiry with the manufacturer may help you decide whether the OTA can be insured for a lower price.
Removal of the lens cell also makes transport much easier; were I one of those people who had bid $20,000 for a premium refractor and who flies out to get the telescope, I would remove the cell, take it with me on the air plane, and ship the rest.
|This C14 was damaged by UPS, properly packed in OEM boxes|
|The primary mirror was trashed when the secondary fell on it and shattered|
|We can do a better job with this c8--corrector is removed and baggie keeps dust off secondary|
|A bottom layer of bubble wrap and lens paper to cover the glass|
|More bubble wrap on top, cover letter with address on it, close it up|
|Now it's time for the OTA to get a bubble bed in its inner box|
|The inner box is closed and goes in the outer box|
|Top it off with more packing material|
|And it's ready for label and shipping|
|A refractor works the same way: here we're using a sturdy and cheap tool box|
|Lots of padding in the inner box|
|And from this point it's easy to finish up.|