As frequent readers of Share Astronomy know, I attended NEAF in April, 2010. Tom Simstad's New Mexico Southern Skies booth had two beautiful telescopes from Officina Stellare on display. (Tom is a new Flagship Dealer for Officina Stellare in the United States.) One scope was a Veloce Series F3 RH-300 Riccardi-Honders (shown in the image to the left) and the other was a F7 Hiper APO 115. Needless to say, I was intrigued. So, I contacted Gino Bucciol of Officina Stellare and requested an interview. Gino agreed and the email interview is included below. I have also included some images of a few of their telescopes. (You can click on any image to see a larger version.)
How long has Officina Stellare been in business?
Our Company was born 10 years ago. Each of us comes from the experience of practical astronomy and all members of our staff are long time astronomy enthusiasts and high-level astrophotographers. Since the birth of the company we realized that there was a place on the world market for performing, innovative products with that touch of extra care for appearance and design. This feeling was confirmed when, about 5 years ago, we started operating on an international level, first of all in the USA, with our first participation at NEAF and RTMC, and also at other European exhibitions and events. From the very beginning our products were judged positively for their technical content, for their innovative design and the use of exclusive materials. Many people, especially in the USA, started calling our instruments "the Ferrari of telescopes" and this label is still following us. About two years ago we decided to change our "old" name A&M Astrotech Engineering to the new and more Italian one, "Officina Stellare". This was done with a view to making our customers more aware and focused on the Italian origin of our products and to diversify our products even more in respect to the competition. We are very proud to be able to take an Italian name around the world, particularly in a high level technological and competitive market such as that of amateur and professional astronomy.
I assume most of your customers are in Europe – is this correct?
Not exactly. Right now our business is divided 50-50 between the USA and Europe. As a matter of fact even in the USA many well-known astrophotographers are working with our instruments.
When did you start selling in the U.S. market?
About 5 years ago, after our first appearance at NEAF. Since then we have always been present, every year, at two of the major events dedicated to astronomy in the USA – NEAF in New York and the AIC in San Jose. Particularly the latter event allowed us to make our products known to our most typical customers – the best astrophotographers worldwide.
Are your products available in other areas like Asia and Australia?
Yes, absolutely. Our dealer network is expanding and continuously in progress, it includes locations in every continent (we call them Flagship Dealers). But we are searching for new dealers, thanks to the increasing requests for our products. Our commercial policy is based on a worldwide solid base of competent and reliable partners. For this reason we carefully select our dealers. They have the task of dealing with a very high level product with customers of very high level.
What are your principal product lines?
Our product line is based on three main types of products: RC telescopes, wide field highly corrected Astrographs and APO refractors. Most of these instruments implement exclusive optical designs that have been developed and designed by us. All of our instruments use very high quality optics, produced with the highest manufacturing standards and of certified quality.
What distinguishes Officina Stellare products from the competition?
Our products are always designed and built so that they will be “special” from the point of view of performance but also in the care taken in design and appearance. It was not easy to achieve this result, but I can say that our product now fully satisfies the expectations of the most demanding customers who, thanks to their assistance, have been very useful in many cases in the process of improving the quality of our products. The formula is simple: the best materials, the best optics, the best mechanical and design solutions. Most of our technical solutions have been innovative in this field and have been copied by many. Many others are still unique and exclusive due to their complexity. There are many excellent products on the market. However, I believe that an Officina Stellare telescope can be unequalled by any of its competitors and that it has good possibilities of winning the challenge.
Where are the optical sets used in your refractors produced?
We are using mainly APO triplets designed by the late Thomas Back and produced on an exclusive basis by the Russian LZOS, one of the largest and well-known factories in the world for this kind of production. Their products are manufactured according to very high and certified standards. The diameters go from 105 to 200mm diameter. The small 80mm is produced by LOMO, another well-known Russian company, and this is one of the best SuperAPO triplets available in the world in its diameter. Apart from these optics we will shortly introduce new objectives, designed directly by Officina Stellare, which will represent an extraordinary step forward in some particular fields of observation and photography through refraction instruments.
Your telescopes are beautiful. How does your use of advanced materials like carbon fibre, carbon-graphite and ceramic-type glasses improve the performance of your products?
The materials used are always chosen keeping in mind a precise function and to satisfy the important needs of the observer or astrophotographer. For example, the materials with low thermal expansion, both optical and non-optical, such as ceramic glass and carbon fiber, will guarantee stability in the focusing position. The extra light aluminium alloys will guarantee that the weight will be the lowest possible without giving up on structural stability. But I could make many other examples of this kind. Moreover we place a lot of care in design and finishing of each component so that not only the best performance is guaranteed, but also the appearance is attained. Yes, as you say, our telescopes are beautiful, many tell me the same thing at exhibitions and special events and I always add two comments when I hear this: they must be, otherwise they would not be Officina Stellare products, but they must also work perfectly, and better than others I should say.
Your Hiper APO 130 and larger refractors all have ventilation fans. This seems unusual – why do you use fans in your refractors?
The fans will guarantee two functions. The first is that the thermal equilibrium of the optics will be obtained faster, and this is a must in order to offer the best performance thanks to the airflow that guarantees a greater thermal exchange. The second is the elimination of the undesirable effect called “feather heat” or “chimney effect” which everyone knows. In other words, thanks to these small fans and thanks to the rolling airflow created along the walls of the tube (a fundamental characteristic is the use of special laser cut baffles which eliminate the turbulence inside the light path) it is possible to observe or take photographs immediately without the typical undesired light diffraction spikes perpendicular to the ground caused by the stable air convection inside the tube.
Are there other innovations in your refractors?
Other interesting characteristics are, for example, the possibility of balancing the focuser group (something which is common in reflectors but much less or even not at all in refractors despite the fact that the latter have the same requirement). Thanks to a simple system of three spring-loaded screws, it is possible to regain any misalignments of the focal plane (almost always present due to the high load of modern camera equipment and of adapters which are not always well made) in respect to the optical axis. In this way it is possible to obtain perfect photos even with modern CCDs of large dimensions. A very particular characteristic is the system of retention of the dewcap that is removable by means of small but powerful magnets. Very very practical!
I saw the Veloce RH 300 Riccardi Honders Astrograph at NEAF and I was very impressed with it's speed (f/3) and it's size (only 430mm in length). Can you describe this telescope for our readers?
The Veloce RH300 is an absolutely innovative instrument. This instrument combines incredible mechanics with an optical system of the same level. The optical design was developed by Massimo Riccardi, an Italian optical designer and member of our team, based on a previous design. The result is such to guarantee to Massimo Riccardi a widely recognised International fame. In our instrument we use the latest and more advanced version of this design. It is an instrument with a very complex optical system. There are 9 optical surfaces, all spherical, which must be figured with the maximum precision. There are 5 elements: a front lens of full diameter, a Mangin primary mirror figured on both sides (this is the most particular element: the reflecting surface is at the back and the light goes through the entire depth, practically it serves both a lens and mirror, at the same time), a secondary in ceramic glass and two corrector lenses at the back, spaced, before the final focus. The result is an incredibly compact, extremely corrected (plane field and stars of 6 micron on a field of 60mm diameter), extremely fast (F/3) and with a large focal extraction. The focusing stability is guaranteed by the design and by the materials used (for example in this case carbon fibre was not used, as it is not suitable in this particular case) and by the use of a secondary mirror of superior material. Officina Stellare is the only company using this particular version of the Riccardi-Honders optical design.
What is the difference between your Pro RC Series Ritchey Chretien telescopes and the Ultra CRC Series?
I am very glad you asked. I believe that the Ultra CRC 312mm F/5.4 is one of our most interesting and performing instruments. The idea came to us when thinking about those customers who wish to work with a faster focal ratio than that of the classic F/8 RCs, in search of larger field frames. I would like to point out that the optical design used is exclusive to Officina Stellare and places our instrument on a very high performing level. It is a modified version of the classic RC design. It is made, like the RC, of two hyperbolic mirrors (but with curvature which is optimized to the performance of the new focal ratio) and by a corrector doublet set before the focus. The result is a 312mm F/5.4 astrograph of extremely high performance, achieved with only 4 optical elements to the advantage of light transmission, capable of guaranteeing stars of 5 microns over the entire field illuminated at 60mm of diameter, with a compactness that sets a record.
Can you please describe the electronic control units available for your RC telescopes? What capabilities do these units provide?
The Advanced Telescope Controller 02 is a sophisticated electronic and microprocessor system capable of controlling all the typical functions of the telescope, both locally, through an enormous 6 inch display and remotely by means of a serial interface, thanks to software which allows it to track all the functions. The main functions are: the system allows you to set the temperature of the two mirrors of the telescope (which is stabilized thanks to a closed loop probe/heater system achieved entirely through digital technology) to prevent the formation of dew on the mirrors, to record the true temperature of local dew point (an environmental probe is present which can record temperature, humidity and pressure of the area surrounding the telescope), to control the speed of the cooling/stabilizing fans of the primary mirror, the opening and closing of the shutter for protection of the primary mirror and control of the precision linear actuator for focusing through the movement of the secondary mirror (this function is ASCOM compatible, so it can be run with any standard software). Moreover the electronics are equipped with a large number of analog and digital in/out lines which can be programmed and personalized for custom control of accessory equipment. All functional parameters are visualized on the large display and on the PC monitor, when connected. This electronic system can be considered as universal and can be installed also on other telescopes not produced by Officina Stellare.