The flow of optical technology to the People's Republic of China is factual. In their quest for hard cash, the former Soviet Union is exporting one of its non-controversial expert technologies to China. That expertise includes optical engineering; a key component in establishing global surveillance systems. But that is not the complete story, as optics play a major role in submarine periscopes, satellite surveillance, optical homing heads for guided missles, ship fire control systems, and precision laser weapon systems. So how does one play catch-up when time is of essence? That's easy; they borrow, steal, lie, bribe, copy, and buy the technology. All is fair in love and war.
The Art of War
For some time, a silent revolution is taking place. There exists a State that is eager to get it on as rapidly as possible. So as the western World economy struggles to stay afloat, the foundaries are being stoked even more in Red China! Slowly, China has made America its Bitch! The US economy and US consumer is so closely linked and indebted to China, that whenever they whip it out, the US is ready and willing to suck. China is undercutting everybody to get in the door and inflict pain on America. But the real target for hurt is Japan. China is sick of bending over to the Japanese, and they are on a mission to set it right. Lawrence Braymer is turning in his grave, yet smiling. That Mona Lisa like smirk is because The Chinese have taken a telescope popularized by Braymer, designed by the Russians, and made it quite functional and gimic free. Here is a blow by blow showdown of the mystic Questar of the west, and the Apex Maksutov from the Far East. It's a light comparison, so keep tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Like many courtships, everyone puts on a show; masking the darkside that is an itch away. And the marriage was most likely for the wrong reasons, so divorce may be lurking in the future. So in post-perestroika russia, there is a quest for cash; where the "hope chest" is only filled with military goodies. China (PROC) acting as bride, is eager to improve its economic position, and to play catch-up in becoming a Global Military Big Cheese. She does this by feinting a false capitalist posture, with heavy exports of consumer items to the West. But beware, as the "ends justifies the means" mentality is still simmering in the backgrround. But enough of this foreplay, let's tie the knot!
"Warfare is the Way of Deception. Thus although capable, display incapability to them."... Sun-Tzu
The bedroom spoils is not enough, because the West still has the superior information toys! As future battles will be decided without fighting; the highest realization of warfare, according to Sun-Tzu. So one must salivate and wait. Much work to do with satellite networks of spy cameras, global positioning, guidance systems, and orbiting weapons systems.
The common link is optical technology, and the optical design of choice is the Maksutov on the small scale, and the classic cassegrain on the large scale. A Questar telescope pioneered space surveillance in September 1965 aboard the Gemini spacecraft. The Maksutov is the military design of choice for long range observation, because its easy to ruggedize. Perkin-Elmer (designers of Hubble Space Telescope) designed a very rugged Maksutov design in 1976, consisting of a solid hunk of glass; making it permanently collimated.
The design was called the "Solid Catadioptic" mirror lens. Unlike traditional mirror optics, which can be misaligned when subjected to shock or extreme temperature changes, the Perkin-Elmer design was geared toward side-stepping these shortcomings.
The 1970's was the year of the mirror telephoto lens, which was based on the Maksutov design. A New York importer (Spiratone) brought the Maksutov-Tele-Optic (MTO) to the USA in the 500mm and 1000mm focal length ranges. This was the beginning of mirror telephoto phenomena. Soon to follow were copy-cat products from Japanese camera makers, and Questar Corporation with a 700mm, f/8 mirror telephoto lens.
The Chinese have some catching up to do, thus the reason for its 365/24/7 space surveillance program. But they are still not even on parady with the U.S. CORONA Spy Satellite Program; 40 year old technology. But money and espionage can close gaps like this in a hurry. Since many imaging satellites are commercial; who's to say such technology will not find its way into China under the guise of "systems to monitor weather patterns". But catchup goes further than that, as what is needed is a superior technology to counter the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN). A hunter-killer satellite weapon, for instance. Such a weapon is being developed by PROC. The device is based on a cassegrain telescope , which will be used to position a high-power laser weapon. Such an instrument placed in orbit, with sufficient tracking and pointing accuracy, could present problems for adversaries. But how to finance such a project? Well PROC has already bought a lot of off-the -shelf technology from Russia; and stole a lot from USA. One area the PROC has perfected is mirror based telescope production; in particular, the Maksutov design. Because of labor issues, the Chinese have been able to make Maks at unheard of low prices; under-cutting anything made in Russia, Japan, or the U.S. The target buyer is western consumer's who persue one of the most expensive hobbies out there___Astronomy!
In the Fall of 2001, Orion started importing a line of Maksutov telescopes from PROC. Although I owned an 89mm creme de creme Questar Maksutov, I was intrigued about a 127mm model from Orion that sold for an eighth of what the Questar sold for! That telescope was called the Apex 127. Now the gospel in optics I thought was, " you get what you pay for". But in the case of that Apex, labor is cheap, there are no unions, and the motivation is clearly beyond making a quick buck! And yes, I am guilty of feeding the coffers of the PROC; which most likely will end up in the "new cold war" hope chest. The Apex is clearly "Russian like". There are no fancy pancy appointments, just pure function; somewhat military looking with a metallic flake crimson paint job. Pure telescope and no plastic parts. Controls are tight, but smooth. There is no mirror shift, as is common with many compound telescopes that focus by moving the primary mirror. The Apex 127 telescope is shown mounted on the Vixen GP-DX equatorial mount. The optics provide crisp diffraction limited performance, and the brighter images are quite noticable compared to the 89mm Questar. The rear of the OTA has a 36.4mm female thread, so a plethora of refractor like accessories are available. I replaced the OE eyepiece adapter with a Borg helical focuser as shown. This thread size also allows use of the 36.4mm to SCT adapter, converting the rear of the OTA to use Meade and Celestron focal reducers, visual backs, etc. The stock 6 x 26mm erect image finder was replaced by a 9 x 50mm inverted image model. The stock Apex 127 weighs 8.6 pounds (note: my Apex 127 with tube rings, 9 x 50mm finder, and counterweight, weighs 13 pounds; so add-ons will escalate weight of OTA very quickly), and is 15 inches long. If photography is planned, a good sturdy mount with an accurate drive is recommended.
Nothing is worse for the observer to wake up the morning after with a stiff neck or sore back. When the telescope is positioned at high atitudes, it can be difficult to observe with a cassegrain or refractor design with the eyepiece rear positioned. Diagonals can help, but they are not a cure all; especially for tall people. My situation was resolved by adding a Vixen Half-Pillar to the GP-DX mount, which raises the equatorial head eight inches above the tripod leg mount lugs. This configuration keeps the tripod legs collapsed for greater stability, and allows the mount to swing in all directions without interfering with the tripod legs. In effect, one has pedestal like performance; but with portability. The photo shows this arrangement and an observing chair. The chair is one of the best gifts an observer can give their back. The chair can be lowered to almost ground level, so its possible to observe near zenith without using a diagonal.
Astrophotography with an Apex 127 Maksutov
|Mars will be the buzz for 2003, and again in 2005. The Red Planet gets a lot hype; mainly due to the media fascination with the possibility of life. Using an Olympus C3030 digital camera, 13mm EP, 2x barlow, 1280 x 960, TIFF mode, this photo of Mars was taken with the Apex 127 at 0830 UT on 8 Jun 2003. A stack of 25 images using Registax.||Tycho crater South view of 12-day old moon, 29 June 2004. Nikon D70 digital SLR, Kenko 300 Pro 1.4x teleconverter, prime focus on Apex127 telescope. Imaged in RAW mode, 1/100 sec, ISO 250. Nikon Capture, Images Plus, and Paint shot Pro 8 processed.||Mars on pre-dawn hour on 21 June 2003. Registax of twenty-six 1280x960 pixel BMP frames taken with Olympus C3030 digital camera using TIFF mode. See Planet Viewer and Mars Simulator||Mars on 25 June 2003, 0830 UT. AVI of 640x480 pixel frames using 3Com Homeconnect webcam (still available on Ebay), Celestron Ultima 2x barlow, and Vega for image capture. Registax used to stack 89 selected frames. Final processing with Paint Shop Pro 7,||Mars on 7 Sep 2003, 0500 UT. Nikon 4500 digicam, 14mm Scopetronix EP, Ultima 2x barlow, and Baader UV-IR cut filter used in path. Settings were 1600x1200 pixels, ISO 200, 1/15 sec, 4x zoom, f/55. Seeing 5/10, semi-fog. Registax of 193 frames (29 stacked) and Final processing with Paint Shop Pro 8.||Mars on 12 Sep 2003, 0400 UT. Nikon 4500 digicam, 14mm Scopetronix EP, Ultima 2x barlow, and Baader UV-IR cut filter, f/55. Registax 1.1 (23 frames stacked), Paint Shop Pro 8, and Astroalign used in processing. Re-sized 40% of original.||Piggyback Astrophotography. Nikon 4500 digicam and Nikon TC-E3 ED 3x Teleconverter, provides a compact Deep Sky Object imaging platform. The 72mm objective of the lens, provides the 35mm equivalent of a 465mm, f/1.33 combination for shorter lower noise images of DSOs.|
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