The Vespera telescope offers power and portability in a small deep-sky imaging package.
A great new telescope just got smaller and more portable. The French-based company Vaonis released its newest addition to their ‘smartscope’ family this week: the Vespera telescope. The small pill-shaped instrument joins the Stellina and the (forthcoming) Hyperia line, offering a lower price point and backpack portability without a compromise in quality.
What’s New with Vespera
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Standing just 15” (40cm) high and weighing in at 11 lbs (5 kilograms) The Vespera is an alt-az system mounted on a single swing arm. Like the Stellina, the Vespera is controlled by Vaonis’ new and upgraded Singularity App, available for both Iphone and Android. The App allows users to plan their observing session, control the telescope and take and share images. The user can also manually load coordinates, handy for adding in new novae or comets into the database.
The Vespera can accommodate a small hygrometer (dew) sensor to be installed by the user after delivery, and a light pollution filter (both sold separately). The company plans to begin offering a solar filter for the Vespera by late 2022.
Using the Vespera in the field is a simple (if a bit slow) process; after hooking the scope up to the phone’s WiFi and initializing the station, Vespera will begin to hunt for familiar star patterns in the sky. The system works off of satellite GPS and a method known as ‘plate-solving,’ comparing star patterns in the sky with its memory database.
Note that the WiFi connection also temporarily kills the mobile data connection for the phone. Our field test suggests that the WiFi is good up to about 25 feet away, and the Vespera can be paired with multiple devices (phones, tablets, etc).
Portability makes the Vespera a joy to use. The scope is light enough for an easy hilltop hike, and sets up quickly. The telescope has about four hours of continuous battery life, though it uses its own special magnetic coupling charger, often seen these days on many smart-watches… actually, I’m surprised the Vespera uses this style of charging connector, as the European Union has mandated that all chargers will be USB-C by late 2024.
Technical specs- The Vespera is built around a 50-mm quadruplet achromatic refractor telescope, coupled with a two megapixel imager and 100 gigabytes of storage. After alignment and target acquisition, the image slowly builds up on the smartphone screen; the longer it stares at an object, the more signal is gathered versus noise, and the sharper the image appears.
What we like- The true power of Vespera and other smartscopes is that it puts deep-sky imaging in the hands of suburbanite amateur astronomers; I could go after bright Messier globulars and targets from washed-out downtown skies that I probably would otherwise not bother to try for otherwise. But its under truly dark skies that the Vespera shines. I can easily capture dark lanes in the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) after just a few minutes of exposure, and the Veil Nebula is Cygnus was a worthy target. We even had a chance to use the Vespera to follow an icy interloper in the inner solar system this summer, Comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS. In fact, we’d go as far as to say the tiny Vespera nearly does as well as its much larger sibling Stellina in terms of astro-imaging.
What we don’t like- As mentioned, the Vespera is extremely slow in terms of initialization, fine-focusing, target acquisition and imaging; all of this is automatic, but a bit tedious; a live view feature would be great. I found that occasionally, the initial images were just a touch out of focus (most likely, due to the optics cooling down to the ambient temperature) and a pass back through the initialization process was needed to attain a fine focus. Also, the blue-circle power button, while stylish, was also prone to turning on with the slightest brush or touch, potentially allowing the telescope to remain turned on in storage, draining precious battery power.
The rise of the smartscopes like the Vespera and their ilk represent the future of amateur astronomy; I look forward to the day when we can live-stream the view from the remote Moroccan desert, via smartscope and Starlink connection. At $2,499 dollars USD retail, the Vespera is still a bit on the high-end… but the price is definitely moving in the right direction.