We have 2 scopes in current regular use. Our favoured scope for outdoor astronomy is the Skywatcher Skymax 127 SynScan AZ GOTO Telescope. This is a Maksutov-Cassegrain design of telescope, meaning that although it looks quite a short,stubby telescope tube, it uses an optically folded system which actually gives it a true focal length of 150cm (one and a half meters!). It is thus great for looking at planets, which of course interests us hugely. The GOTO AZ mount means that once at is aligned to the night sky [we use a 2 star alignment process] it can accurately take you to hundreds of targets and reliably follow them. It can easilly follow Mars, keeping the planet firmly in the centre of field of vision. Thus, once we have aligned the telescope with the mounted laser, the laser targetting and following of the planet is seamless and allows more human attention to be devoted to safety issues [checking sky and radar for encroaching aircraft]. We also use a small Dobsonian telescope, mostly for “out-of-the-window” use [Skywatcher Heritage 100P Dobsonian Telescope]. It’ actually very capable for planetary study or use with a laser.
With regard to lasers, we use 2 poweful blue lasers made by SkyTech Lasers of Hong Kong [3500 mW and 1000mW, both at wavelength 450nm and divergence < 2.5 mRad]. We also use a 1000mW red (JetLasers, China), 100mW red “Nano” laser and a 100mW green “Evo” laser both made by Wicked Lasers, also of Hong Kong. We deploy red lasers when Mars is low in the night sky (<20deg) in order to minimize the effects of scattering (see: Science Details). The EVO comes with a smartport which allows for some programmable functions, including an EVO App for Android platforms which maintains a morse code messaging function. This is a very impressive [although a bit jittery] bit of software applied to a laser… an affordable route into Free Space Optical Communications. See the videos of our laser use in the MEDIA section of this website.