Tamworth Astronomy Club's Hewitt Camera now in specially built observatory

One small step for the astronomy club, a giant leap for the future of Tamworth: their original crown jewel camera has now been rehomed in its purpose built sanctuary.

March 10, 2021

After days of painstakingly intricate work and planning, the Hewitt Camera has been craned into place - all within a 20 minute operation.

"It's pretty incredible - we've been planning for days, and now it's all over," Raymond McLaren said.

As owner of Andromeda Industries, he felt incredibly proud to play a continuing role in the history of the telescope, after being involved in its assembly when it first arrived in Tamworth in wooden boxes and helping turn it digital.

"It's absolutely marvellous," he said.

"I think it will be a great thing for Tamworth, a great thing for the Astronomy club, and we will become known all over the world."

The camera-telescope is only one of two in the world, built by the British military in the early 1960s. It was built to first track the Blue Streak Missile and later monitor Russian satellites.

Each camera cost 5.5 million pounds to make at the time and weighs 8.5 tonnes. The mirror, the most delicate and expensive part, would cost around $3 to $5 million if it was to be built now.

Preparations for moving the expensive piece involved lashing and chocking inside the equipment, to prevent the delicate and moveable parts being damaged in the move.

"It is an incredibly delicate instrument, with individual parts and interlocking mechanisms," Mr McLaren said.

It was transported on a four axle truck, with tire pressure lowered to reduce shocks from the trip from Moonbi, with a specially picked, careful driver to haul it to the new centre. Purpose-designed slings then helped Northwest Cranes lift it in to place.

Garry Copper, president of the Astronomy club, said seeing the telescope in its purpose built home was another puzzle piece in the new building.

"The Hewitt is our showcase instrument for the Astronomy Club at this point in time, and we built that Hewitt observatory specially for it," he said.

"It will always be a feature, have the history about it, and the design means it can always be seen."

He said the club have had the piece for about 15 years, with its conversion from film to digital prints taking place about three years ago.

"It's all chopped up now, but once we put it back together it'll be pretty much operational from the word go," he explained.

One of the first projects it will be used for is the Argus Two project. The work is done with Basingstoke Astronomical Society (BAS) in the UK, and works to pinpoint the exact location, within 20 metres, of satellites three earth-lengths away from our planet.

"It's a project for the UK Department of Defence, done with the blessings of the Australian Defence Department, and we are collaborating on either side of the planet so we have the full diameter of the earth to work with," he said.

Tamworth councillor and deputy mayor Phil Betts said it was not only a milestone for the science and astronomy group, but a milestone for the Tamworth regional community as a whole.

"To have an asset with the claim to fame as being one of only two in the world, a working digital camera, it's not only a scientific instrument but a tourist attraction as well," he said.

Article credit: Jacinta Dickins, Northern Daily Leader

Photo credit: Gareth Gardner

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