Astronomica +44 (0)1132 037240 — was £169
If you can't afford a traditional domed observatory, or your city-based garden precludes such a permanent setup owing to lack of space, poor viewing prospects or light pollution, what does one do? The obvious option for the observer who has to travel to dark sky locations (and, let's face it, that's most of us) is some sort of telescope tent. Kendrick is an established provider in this area, and more recently we've seen the Pop-Up observatory, but the latest and cost-effective alternative is this — the Chinese-made Astrotent imported into the U.K. by Leeds-based Astronomica.
Supplied in a 65 x 17 x 17cm zip-up holdall and weighing just 4.5kg, the Astrotent looks just like a traditional dome tent once you spread the contents on the ground. Even a novice tent-erector will find the accompanying two-A4 page instructions fairly easy to follow, but a seasoned camper will have no problems putting it up. Ideally you need two people, but I assembled it the first time unaided in about twenty minutes.
Once inside, I was surprised how spacious the octagonal Astrotent was. It could comfortably accommodate, say, a 10-inch Dobsonian with room to spare. The quick-fit roof cover is secured by Velcro and four bungee clips. Once removed, the observing aperture is just under 2m in diameter and some 1.4m above the ground, offering a wide expanse of sky and good protection from wind buffering and stray light.
Access to the Astrotent is via one of four zip-up arch-shaped doors that are just under a metre high and 90cm wide. There's a sewn-in ground sheet, but do consider using boards or vibration pads for your tripod feet to prevent tearing it. And for those worried about using it in gusty conditions (Kelling Heath springs to mind), it's provided with guy ropes. I'd be doubtful of the Astrotent's ability to withstand some of the downpours we've experienced in the U.K. this summer, but you're unlikely to be using it in such bad weather anyway.
Comparisons will inevitably be made with the aforementioned Pop-Up observatory. In the Pop-Up's favour is its ease and speed of setup, but its partly obstructed zenith region and suitability for catadioptrics and higher-mounted instruments may dissuade some from adopting it. In contrast, the Astrotent is smaller and lighter when packed and offers greater observing room and better sky access for most instruments.
I liked it a lot. Recommended.