Changes in ownership were not the only challenges Celestron had to face as the years rolled on. For the first decade after the introduction of the Orange Tube C8, it had no competition when it came to SCTs. One company, Criterion, formerly known for producing cheap but good Newtonians, had introduced a Schmidt Cas-segrain of their own, the Dynamax. However, this telescope was never a serious contender for a number of reasons. What mostly kept Criterion down was poor optics. Some of their SCTs could be described as having "acceptable" optical quality, but very few were better than that. Most were worse, and most amateurs stuck with Celestron.
Then, in 1980, it was a whole new ball game for Celestron. A little company called Meade, which had been started by another southern California electronics engineer, John Diebel, introduced an 8-inch SCT that some amateurs thought was not just as good as the C8, but better.
The rise of Meade Instruments is one of those old-fashioned success stories Americans love. The world's number one telescope company began as John Diebel's one-person "garage" business in the early 1970s, selling small imported telescopes and accessories through tiny ads in the astronomy magazines. Meade did not exactly take amateur astronomy by storm, but Diebel kept plugging away at it, continuing to add to and broaden his product line. After a couple of years this steady plodding started to pay off. Amateurs noticed Meade was offering some pretty good eyepieces for bargain prices, something that was rare in the early 1970s. Meade's prospects advanced even further in 1978 when they began selling serious telescopes—6- and 8-inch Newtonian reflectors.
It was clear to Diebel that Meade had potential, but it was also clear that the market for the accessories, Newtonian telescopes, and old-fashioned achromatic refractors (another big product for the young company) was strictly limited. One thing appeared certain: The Schmidt Cassegrain was the wave of the future, and the only way to really get ahead was to take on Celestron by producing a CAT. Meade, it was
Plate 5. Meade 2080 20 Celestron's first serious competitor, the Meade 2080 8-inch SCT, which featured an improved worm gear drive system.Credit: Image courtesy of John Clothier.
decided, would give it a try, even though the other popular Newtonian maker of the time, Criterion, was in the process of failing due to its SCT woes. After 2 years of development, Meade released its first SCT, the 2080, in 1980 (Plate 5).
Lucky for John Diebel and his employees, the 2080 was not another Dynamax. The design was similar to that of the C8, but in some regards the Meade was clearly superior to Celestron's famous orange CAT. Diebel and his Meade colleagues had done their homework, taking those 2 years to painstakingly design a telescope and a manufacturing process to produce it. The all-important corrector was made using a method similar to Schmidt's original vacuum process. Early Meade correctors were maybe not as good as those produced by Celestron's proprietary master block system, but before long Meade had its act down, and its SCT optics were close in quality to those of Celestron. One thing astrophotographers liked about the 2080 was that it used a high-quality worm gear in its drive system that was at least perceived to be more accurate than the cheaper spur gear of the C8.
In the nearly 30 years since the arrival of the 2080, Meade has continued to grow and prosper. There have been a few bumps on the road of late, but Diebel's kitchen table company has become established as the innovator in technology for the amateur astronomy market. This approach culminated in the introduction in 1992 of the LX-200 series of SCTs, the first practical and affordable go-to Schmidt Cassegrain.
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