If you’re looking for an affordable option for skywatching, the Orion SpaceProbe II 76 is a solution to get your feet wet for amateur astronomy. Just know that with the low price point will come shortcomings, so treat this telescope as a starting point before investing in accessories or ideally, another observatory for long-term exploration of the sky.
For a MSRP of $129, you get a compact package with a few accessories. The telescope is a 3-inch (76mm) f/9.2 (700mm focal length) reflector, which makes it easy to bring into the field. It also comes with an optical tube, equatorial mount, two 1.25-inch Kellner eyepieces, and a red-dot reflex sight, which is enough to get you started with the basics. Beginners will also appreciate the thorough instruction manual and – to get you acquainted with a popular astronomy target – a laminated moon map.
Happily, the setup is easy even for beginners. The scope arrives in a surprisingly compact carton. Open the carton and you’ll be greeted by a large assortment of cardboard boxes containing plastic wrapped parts. Set aside a workspace where you can lay everything out. From the initial unboxing, it took me about 17 minutes to assemble the telescope.
Telescopes below $200 or so tend to have shortcomings, and this one – even though it comes from Orion, a seller of serious astronomical equipment – is no exception. The equatorial mount, in particular, has issues – and given that mounts are essential to steady observing, you’re going to want to address this somehow. The mount’s motions are imprecise, and its narrow stance encourages unintended tip overs in the dark, so you’ll need to find a way to secure it in place. Most frustrating are the dreaded slow-motion cables, which tend to come off when you least expect or want them to, no matter how much you tighten down on the tiny lock screws. Some have suggested applying Loctite to the threads, but I prefer to ditch the cables entirely and replace them with radio control knobs, available from electronics supply houses.
Even after replacing the cables, it still took me a few nights to work out the quirks with the mount. Once I got used to it, however, I found the optical tube to be quite nice. It has a full set of collimation screws on both mirrors should you need to align the optics – or in case you want to practice your alignment skills in a low risk environment. The supplied 25mm and 10mm Kellner eyepieces are a cut above typical budget scope accessories, but if you’re a beginner, stick with the low power 25mm eyepiece.
There are some more minor drawbacks to the affordable telescope. The optical tube is held on by a thin plastic tube ring; I’m concerned about its long-term durability, especially in humid or cold climates. Ditto for the thin plastic red dot finder scope, which uses a non-standard mounting bracket. If you had to replace this, it might be hard to find another bracket of the same sort. The focuser is also plastic, and its drawtube protrudes into the main tube when focused, cutting off some of the light.
The telescope will easily split Mizar and Alcor, the famous stars of the Big Dipper. The Moon looked quite pleasing as its phase changed over several consecutive nights. The scope is limited for deep sky objects due to its relatively small 3-inch aperture, but it can pick out the showpiece objects. I found M42 (the Orion Nebula), M45 (the Pleiades), the Double Cluster in Perseus, and several open clusters in Auriga. On one exceptional night, I found galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major, and M65 and M66 in Leo. These targets were dim, however, and approaching the limits of the scope.
The Orion SpaceProbe II 76 gets a mild recommendation. I feel as if I’m reviewing two separate products – a barely-adequate mount, and a decent optical tube. Provided you’ve read the caveats above, and you are willing to work through the mount’s quirks, it can be a decent beginner’s learning tool to learning the night sky.
For more on the Orion SpaceProbe II 76, see Ed’s video at: https://youtu.be/Z9dwe-0as7E
Website: Orion Binoculars and Telescopes