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A bit of a disclaimer here. This is going to be as much of ‘what’s wrong with the Intelliscope’s instructions as much as it will be a  ‘how to’ for helping set-up your Intelliscope.

005First a little background: Dobsonian telescopes, with their large mirrors and lazy-susan bases have been around for ages but it wasn’t until Orion released their SkyQuest XT line in the late 90’s that they became popular. Previous Dobsonian telescope models had issues with balance and were trick to keep on target.  Odd solutions like weights added to the outside of the telescope were clunky and awkward for basic users. Orion solved the issue by adding the CorrectTension system, which was a spring that held the optical tube of the Dobsonian to the base. It was a simple and elegant solution and it worked very well. The line got excellent marks and was considered one of the best Dobsonian lines on the market . At first Orion just sold a 6″ and 8″ model, then added a 10″ model, a 4.5″ kid’s model, and later a 12″ model.

For several years, Orion pretty much dominated the Dobsonian Market, but when imitators cropped up they decided to improve their classic Dobsonian by adding a computer guidance system (not a computer control system like many GoTo telescopes). Here you would get the advantages of having a computer system to help you find objects. It would not require batteries for any motors and the observer would be the person moving the telescope, using a hand controller to guide them.

The whole system using a pair of magnetic encoders, and development was tricky. The initial plan was to have the Intelliscope completely replace the original Dobsonian line where it would be sold with and without the controllers. This didn’t happen due to some development issues. Once the Intelliscope was ready it was sold both with and without the controllers, but after a few years it was sold strictly with the Intelliscope controller system. This unfortunately left some ‘development scars’  that will show up from time to time as we assemble the telescope.

I should make a confession here: I worked for Orion during the development of the Intelliscope. I actually wrote the first set of instructions. There are some things I can take responsibility for, but since the instructions have been re-written and most of the errors were caused by design changes after I left Orion I won’t be feeling too much guilt.

So let’s get started: We had a customer purchase a SkyQuest Intelliscope XTi 8  and paid for us to assemble it at the store (a service we offer).

First of all, your Intelliscope will arrive in 2 boxes, unless you got the XT12i and the mirror will be in a third box. One box holds the optical tube, Intelliscope controller and some hardware, the other box holds the base pieces and some more hardware.

Both are about the same weight.

Both are about the same weight.

We’ll open the optical tube box first so we can get a look at that lovely tube:


The tube is well protected in the box, and once your get it out you can see it has both a protective bag and paper to prevent scuffing.


Now here are the new instructions. I would point out that they are already a wee bit out of date as the XT6i is no longer produced. (ETA: The XT6i is back after a bit of a consumer uproar.)


My biggest complaint (and I didn’t get a picture of this) is that much of the first two pages of the manual is devoted to attaching the telescope mirror cell to the optical tube. A process that is only required for the XT12i. While this is noted at one point it is not made very clear and someone just casually glancing at the instructions will get wrong idea. More notations of “XT12I only!’ would make this clearer, IMHO.

Several accessory boxes are included with the telescope. There is some reason to the way things are placed, but at times there isn’t I will get into the details of this as we assemble the telescope. Suffice it to say that the parts can be a bit tricky to sort.


OK, but the first thing we really need to do with this telescope is open up the base box and assemble it. Here are the pieces as they come out of the box:


As I have mentioned before, when it comes to assembling Dobs, have a power drill/driver with both screw and a set of hex heads. Sure Orion gives you some tools in a bag of parts, but you will strip your hands raw if you try to use them.

Seriously, buy or borrow a power drill with some hex-heads.

Back to assembly: First we attach the rubber feet to the bottom base of the telescope. This is the triangular piece:


Now you assemble the base’s three sides.

Lots of hex-head screws here.

Lots of hex-head screws here.

This can be a little tricky as you have to have both boards standing on their edges while you try to line up holes on each board.  The pieces are decently marked but this is an easy place to make an ‘IKEA mistake’ where you attach one of the pieces backwards. Anyway,as per the instructions you don’t tighten the screws all the way, at least not yet.

Assembled, but with screws not tightened too much.

Assembled, but with screws not tightened too much.

Now the reason that you didn’t tighten those hex-head screws too much is because now you need to attach the round top-base to the rest of this stuff. This means you need to line up about 8 holes. A little flexibility in the base parts might be handy here:

Suffice it to say, this part is tricky, and here is where I made my IKEA mistake. I attached the round base upside-down. Its an easy enough mistake to do as only a small pilot hole differentiates the top from the bottom.

Again, we find ourselves putting things on their sides and lining up holes.

Again, we find ourselves putting things on their sides and lining up holes.

Now we actually attach some of the electronics to the telescope. This piece is the azimuth (left/right) jack. It translates the readings from the azimuth encoder, which we will see in a second.

Sorry a couple of these pictures are blurry.  I was a bit rushed.


This piece attaches to the bottom of the base. For fun, you have to attach a metal washer to act as a spacer to the attachment screw. For more fun the washer is smaller than your pinky fingernail and hidden amongst 500 other parts in bags.  Fun!

Anyway, it attaches to the bottom of the top part of the base. Like so:


OK…now it gets tricky. Here is one of the places where there are more parts than what you need to assemble the telescope. Meet the Azimuth base shaft:


Now, when you pull this thing out, it has some four washers on it. Two large, two small, and also a lock screw. But in the instructions it only shows two of the washers being used. Derp!


OK, here is where things get a little backwards. First you take the shaft with one washer and push it up through the bottom of the lower base plate. Then you slide the encoder disk onto the shaft. No problem, right? Well no, you see they put the encoder disk in a completely different bag in a completely different box (it is in the Intelliscope Controller box) so it becomes very hard to find!

Continuing wit the base assembly, we now inset a brass bushing into the top baseplate.


This does involve a bit of fidgeting as the encoder panel has to be lined up perfectly with the hole. This bushing is brass because it needed to be more durable than plastic but could not interfere with the magnetic encoder like a steel bushing would.


Now you have to put the two base pieces together but sliding the shaft through the hole in the base.

Now comes the hard part. First of all you are going to need two wrenches!


Count ’em. Two!

This next maneuver is so clunky that I could not photograph myself doing it. You need to hold the base of the azimuth shaft steady with one wrench and then turn the lock nut with the other one. It involves you sitting, with the almost assembled base practically on your lap, with one hand on the base of the azimuth shaft and the other working the lock nut. It is so complex that I couldn’t get a picture of myself doing it. I had to cop out and take a picture of the picture in the instruction manual where this is being done:

Best  I could do under the circumstances

Best I could do under the circumstances

Now you might remember how I said that I wrote the initial instructions? Well that also meant I took the pictures . I had to rope my co-workers into being the models for these awkward maneuvers. Ariel, my friend, I still feel bad for making you do this.

Once this is done, we attach the two accessories. First is the carrying handle:


And then the screws to attach the eyepiece rack.


Attach the rack, tighten the screws and the base is, well, mostly ready.


Now, this is where you really need to pay attention, and it is also where the re-write of the instructions fails. You see to finish assembling the Intelliscope properly, you need to refer to a 2nd instruction manual. You can keep on building the telescope with the original manual and the telescope will work, but it won’t have any Intelliscope features. So to add those you would need to do a bit of disassembly and refer to the instructions in the 2nd manual. This is very backwards. It made some sense in the days when the thinking at Orion was that there would be Intelliscopes sold both with and without the Intelliscope controller. But today that idea just isn’t going to happen, so why continue to have the instructions treating the scope as if there were two versions?

There are other issues as well: the Intelliscope comes with two errata sheets that cover designs of the scope that have not been built for almost 10 years? Worse, confusing extra parts are included for these errata? Why are the old parts still included? I can almost be certain Orion is not dealing with stock it bought in 2005 so why is this here, confusing the customer?

Continued in Part 2.


Comments on: "Assembling the Orion SkyQuest XT8i Intelliscope Dobsonian Telescope – Part 1" (3)

  1. This is fantastic! I’m about to order the 8″ Intelliscope, so this will be my guide. Hope you can get Part 2 up soon–just in time for me to assemble my scope! 🙂

  2. Vick Krishnan said:

    This great thanks for posting. I am looking for the detailed specs of the wood boards because my xt8i shipped with the boards for the xt8. Would it be possible to share?

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