1001 Uses for a Shipping Container #200: A Shipping Container Astronomical Observatory

Living in a semi-rural location North of Sydney in Australia, Matt had dreamed of having his own observatory for years. In 2013 he completed a self-built observatory made from shipping containers. The finished result is a very smart and functional building with office space as well as a dome room housing the telescope. This article shows how it was designed and built.

The dome and motor kit were ordered from a specialist company. Matt decided on a layout using 3 containers altogether. 2 x 20ft containers would be joined together to make office and storage space, and a 10ft container would house the pier / telescope assembly and have the 2.3m dome fitted to the top. A steel veranda would be formed by pushing back one of the container walls and extending the floor supports.

Matt documented each stage of the build with photographs. Here you can see the joined 20ft containers with the veranda platform, the inside of the 10ft container with the steelwork going in for the telescope and observing platform, and the hole cut in the roof ready for the dome.

Note the 450mm square hole in the container base and the raised floor. This is for a concrete pile which the telescope will be fixed to. The telescope and pier is not attached to the building at all – in order to keep the telescope from moving it needs to be fixed directly to bedrock via a reinforced concrete column!

The observatory was to be placed on a slope, so ground preparation very important. 6 pads were prepared. You can also see the much larger hole ready for the column which will support the telescope.

I-Beams were custom made to support the observatory and sent to a specialist to be Galvanised. Meanwhile the electricians got to work on the building and the structure insulated with high density 50mm foam insulation panels to keep the inside temperature down on those hot summer days.

The newly galvanised beams were delivered to site and installed – these weighed well over a tonne each. Matts calculations proved sound and all the supports lined up perfectly with the concrete pads.

From there the installation of the completed observatory was relatively simple, the 2 pieces were placed on the I-beams and secured to each other. Over the next few weeks the dome and stairs were installed and a roof fitted over the office section.

The internal decoration was completed and furniture moved in.

We have to give full credit to Matt for this, his planning and build quality have made this a very successful project. You can see Matt’s own blog on his build as well as images he’s taken with his telescope on his website – link here. All pictures credited to Matt.

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