Dual Axis Motor Drive [Mount Upgrade]

Dual Axis Motor Drive [Mount Upgrade]

A Dual Axis Motor Drive is a logical next upgrade to my mount. Why? Although I already have a motor on the RA axis, why add one to the Declination axis? I’m an engineer and astronomy addict. Correspondingly that makes me an adventurous astrophotographer who doesn’t have the budget for a goto mount. Therefore, my next move, take the first step towards creating a goto mount.

Orion EQ-3M Dual-Axis Electronic Drive
Orion EQ-3M Dual-Axis Electronic Drive

Orion Astroview Mount

Pleiades
The Pleiades

A short recap of the mount in its current condition and its performance. It currently has an RA motor installed. In addition, it tracks the sky quite well during my 3 minute exposures. Not to mention, when I have excellent polar alignment, my stars are round. Overall, I’m very happy with its performance on my beginner astrophotography setup.

Orion EQ-3M Dual Axis Electronic Drive

Dual Axis Motor Drive
Shaft Connection Point
on Mount

This dual axis motor drive system arrives with 2 motors, 1 clutch assembly, 1 controller and all the tools you’ll need. Coupled with the fact that it was designed for the Orion Astroview Mount, the install is simple. Additionally, after reading the directions, the install took about 15 minutes.

A point often overlooked is the point on the shaft where the set screw should reside (see video). It is important to realize, that when tightening the set screw from the RA Motor shaft and clutch assembly, it should rest on the flat part of the shaft on the mount. As a result, you will find that the components will not loosen up and cause tracking or movement issues later. In addition, the teeth from both gears (Declination Motor and Clutch Assembly) should match without any gaps.

The Test Run

On the positive side, the skies were clear and my setup went smoothly. Prior to plate solving, I completed polar alignment with the motor assembly tracking smoothly. Great, the Crescent Nebula, is waiting for me and I slew over to it. Ordinarily I would be moving the declination axis by hand. In this case I used the newly attached motor. It didn’t move. Unlike the RA motor it’s much weaker. I had to stop everything to loosen up the gearing on the mount itself. Thus for me, I don’t like it. I fear uncontrolled movement on the Dec axis. Of course, now that it is moving, it can be characterized as smooth and quiet. Next step, plate solving. I set the camera to 10 s exposure at 800 ISO. The first photo came out normal. Immediately after, the second photo had star trails.

Star Trails
Star Trails

I was so confident in the performance of this motor drive, I initially assumed I was Elon Musked! Ok so not true, but would have been better than the actual result. I checked on the controller and the power light went red. Meaning it wasn’t tracking the sky. It was actually moving faster than required and the Dec motor would not move at all. Consequently, my night was over. I later discovered, because it fell off, that the declination gear was not fully assembled. It has 2 set screws. Both of which were not tightened. Of course they don’t give you the allan wrench to tighten the set screws. Once I tightened them, the gear was held tight and the motor didn’t allow it to move.

Dual Axis Drive, Final Thoughts

In the end, it didn’t finish well. There are some positives. The system was simple to install and took about 15 minutes. Both motors are quiet and smooth. The controller, before dying, responded quickly and worked at each speed setting. I believe the declination motor should be as stiff as the RA motor. Orion has already agreed to replace the broken controller and for that I’m happy.

Where I struggle is the need to finish assembly of the product. The Declination gear should have been completely assembled before shipping. I had a similar experience with the Astroview Mount itself where I had to tighten the worm gears on both RA and Dec axis. I’m anxious to explore the night sky from South Carolina and deliver to you a stunning photo of the Crescent Nebula. Until next time, the sky is only the limit when your mind is unwilling to fly. Go beyond!

Kevin Francis

Kevin Francis is a Mechanical Engineer by day, amateur Astrophotographer by night who is taking his Google Pixel smartphone camera to new limits.

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