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Atlas + EQMOD + PC Direct Mode

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#1 Skylook123

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 07:33 PM

Last night I got a chance to spend some time on a new observing pad we had installed as part of landscaping our yard. All around great night.

My goals were to check out the alignment behavior of both SynScan 3.24 and the latest EQMOD separately using a reticle eyepiece that was a Christmas gift, check out SynScan 3.24 and EQMOD together using PC Direct Mode, and try some satellite tracking both with EQMOD stand alone and through the hand controller in PC Direct Mode. All efforts were the best that I could have hoped for.

I've always had less than pleasing alignments using my usual high magnification non-reticle eyepieces. My wife surprised me with a reticle eyepiece for Christmas, so I finally got a chance to trot it out. Wow, what a cure for what ailed the system. In the past I would have to step through a series of eyepieces from 50X down through 286X to zero in on the stars. My test was to start up with EQMOD stand alone (no HC in the system), and set up in the perfect baseline; level the tripod and mount and use levels to perfectly set the CW down and latitude (instructions buried in previous posts). That gave me a dead-on home position. At dark I powered up (EQMOD is GPS aligned, laptop is GPS clock synchronized) and performed an iterative polar alignment with the reticle eyepiece. MUCH easier to converge on Polaris and NCP. I used the polar scope to finish the job using EQMODS hour angle display. I had the hand controller separately powered up on the GPS unit and cross checked all information, and lat/long/time/hour angle all agreed between EQMOD and HC. Now polar aligned, I performed a N-star alignment with EQMOD, stopping at three stars. I began with Capella, which was about two degrees off to start. I centered it, put in the 315X reticle (no barlow, didn't want to introduce and possible off-axis issues) slightly defocused and the center of the Airy disk was exactly the size of the center reticle circle. I centered it, then went on to the next two stars (don't remember what I used!). Each was well inside the FOV of the 315X! Amazing; love that EQMOD. Several GOTOs were dead on, backed off to 286X (M42, M76, 9mm Nagler).

I saved the alignment file for later use, and then dropped in a 50mm/50X plossl for satellite chasing. I fired up all the additional software packages (EQMODLX, HW Virtual Serial Port, Satellite Tracker), established mount connection, and started chasing. Nailed two right off, within 1/4 degree out of the box and perfect tracking on each for more than five minutes.

I had been wanting to check out SynScan 3.24 and PC Direct Mode. I've been one of the more vocal critics of the behavior with EQMOD feeding through from the laptop in that it seemed to lock up if direction arrows on the HC were used. So I shut down all of the EQMOD and satellite tracking, parked the mount, powered down, removed the serial cable from the laptop, and installed the HC. I restarted and performed a three star alignment with the reticle eyepiece and SynScan alone. Not quite as good as with EQMOD; for the final star I needed to drop the power to the 9mm Nagler to get it into the field and center, then the 315X reticle. I believe it was due to the third star being on the opposite side of the meridian of the first two, and the SCT mirror likely shifted a touch. The resulting GOTOs were a tiny bit off; toward the edge of the field in 286X, hardly noticeable in a 22mm Panoptic 110X. Reticles Rule!!

Then I set up the system to run EQMOD through the hand controller in PC Direct Mode. The reason that I was interested in this mode was to use the direction arrows on the HC in real time to correct alignment in lieu of the Rumblepad I use (clunky for the fast time/cross track adjustments needed for satellites), but I didn't realize until last night that the arrows on the HC will fight with Satellite Tracker in that the joystick adjustments are fed to the code to adjust real time in-track/cross-track behavior, while the program is blind to HC and will constantly battle to override the new instructions. In any event, I was about check out PC Direct Mode. I got EQMOD up and running, reloaded the saved alignment file, and did some GOTOs through PC Direct Mode. Perfect. No lockups with the direct arrows or rate button on the hand controller. Looks like SynScan has fixed the issue! I'll shut up now about PC Direct Mode being a hazard to the mount with runaways, at least as far as SynScan v3.24; I tried to break it and it hung in there. Gotos were as good as with the straight EQMOD. Two more satellite tracks were again very close to center in the low power eyepiece, this time through the hand controller.

I am one happy astroboy satellite chaser!
:jump:

#2 Nils_Lars

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 11:37 PM

Im glad you wrote this up I am a new user of EQMOD and I have been wondering about the HC in PC direct mode but it sounds safe to use.

#3 Skylook123

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Posted 15 March 2009 - 01:19 AM

Last night it was. Didn't try tonight. I'm sure I'll do something wrong to make it confusing.

#4 Jose Bellas

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Posted 16 March 2009 - 04:59 PM

Jim,
I was going to create a thread to ask this question but since you have this thread going and might know I thought I'd ask here first.

I have recently become and Atlas with EQMOD owner after buying a club members mount (Mr. Charlie Hein). I would like to keep the HC put away and not used. My question is the following, how do you know what hour angle to polar align the mount to in EQMOD? Do you use the LST? I don't see the hour angle display you mentioned, however I could be blind.

The HC tells you put Polaris at this hour, but I'm looking for the same information out of EQMOD.

One last thing, if I understood you correctly, you powered up the hand controller not connected to the mount?

Sorry I didn't mean to hijack your thread or anything. Posted Image

#5 Skylook123

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Posted 16 March 2009 - 06:11 PM

Hi Jose,

From your post count I'll say Welcome to Cloudy Nights!

Charlie Hein and J.R.Crilly got me started with the Atlas over three years ago; GREAT people to work with.

I wouldn't think the thread's been hijacked; my purpose starting it was to open the floor to conversation regarding the combination in the subject, so I think you're right where you belong.

EQMOD has gone through what seems to be dozens of growth steps. The last couple of versions have a window in the upper middle of the Setup screen (up top, under the version ID, is a button "setup >>>>>>"; press this to expand into the Setup screen). If your EQMOD version is recent enough (I'm using 1.16b for troubleshooting at work, 1.16j at home), in the top middle of the setup screen will be a Site Information pane. At the bottom of that small pane is a button with an incrementing clock, and off to the side it says Polaris HA. Click on the incrementing clock button and a new PolarScope window will pop up off to the side. That will be your sight picture in the polar scope. That's all you need to do; make the polar scope you look into match the Polaris position in the little window; all the math & flips are done. Don't use the incrementing number directly; you have to do some 24 hour to 12 hour conversions and horizontal/vertical image flips to get the final answer, which the little PolarScope window shows you.

Also on that window is an "Align Polar Scope" button. I know that on the EQMOD site there is a user guide for what to do with this, but I never need it; I just take the Hand Controller value after entering local date and time (doesn't have to be attached to the mount; just run a separate power line to the hand controller directly) and put Polaris there, or check the Polaris information in EQMOD as above. All you need is EQMOD.

You might have an older version of EQMOD, before the Polar HA was developed and implemented. Just go to the EQMOD Yahoo Users Group and look in the Files/A EQMOD Release/EQASCOM file folder for the latest version, somewhere around 1.16j

Actually, I don't think I powered up the hand controller separate from the mount, since I only had one A/C power line at the scope. What I did was early, just before sundown, as I set up the mount/tripod/scope I used the A/C supply into the hand controller external power port and set it off to the side with the Skywatcher GPS connected to it to sync the date and location. Most times I set up at a different school or public park three or four times a month, so I'm never sure what location is loaded. If I stick the GPS on it, it takes care of itself for location and date while I'm bolting things together. Then, when I later transfer it and the power supply to the mount, all I have to do is enter the new time.

Hope this helps!

#6 Jose Bellas

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 09:29 AM

Jim,
Ohhh I see, I understand what you mean now about connecting the HC to the GPS unit.

You've answered most of my questions so thank you. I have version 16b but I'm going to load 16j tonight. I have to be connected to the mount and EQDIR module to use the EQMOD, right? You said you have a version at work so do you take the mount to work?

On more question about powering up the hand controller. I saw the external port but I was worried that powering it up with out the mount connected would mess it up, if I understand correctly I can power it up and thumb threw the options without the HC connected to the mount?

Thanks again...

Jose

#7 Skylook123

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 10:35 AM

EQMOD has two modes of operation; connected to a mount, and stand alone simulator. Three, actually; connected straight to the mount with the EQDir interface, connected to the hand controller with the SynScan cable and the HC running in PC Direct Mode, or as a stand alone simulator. If you check in your planetarium program telescope setup, there will be two entries for EQMOD; one will say EQ5/EQ6, the other will say EQMOD ASCOM Simulator. If you choose the simulator, it runs as though there is a real mount on the end of a line. All you need is the computer/laptop to play with EQMOD and your planetarium program, just as though the mount was really there. Magic.

You can power up the hand controller directly with no mount. On startup, the HC will tell you no mount is detected, but then you can surf through the menus. This is the way I let the GPS load the date and location off on the side while I'm putting the other parts together.

Assuming you have the V3.xx hand controller, if you connect the SynScan serial cable that comes with the mount (DB9 at one end, RJ11 at the other) from the computer to the middle port on the hand controller and the power line into the far right port, that's how you upgrade the firmware which is now V3.24. No mount is involved in the process.

For the firmware upgrade you will need the upload software and the new firmware load, both of which are found on the Skywatcher site along with user instructions.

#8 Jose Bellas

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 07:20 PM

Jim,
Thanks that makes sense, I forgot about the simulator mode.

I use the EQDIR, the HC I have is a 3.x unit but unless I'm doing visual I don't see myself pulling it out of the case.

#9 Peds

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 09:49 PM

Hey Jim,

I just got myself an Atlas mount and have been reading about this EQMOD for a while! So, from what I understand, the only way you used to be able to use EQMOD was through an external interface module? And now, with new software for the hand controller, the PC-DIRECT mode (which used to be broken) now works? Which means you can now use your laptop with EQMOD and connect to the hand controller, which connects to the mount?

Sorry about all this confusion, I'm just trying to understand exactly how it works since I've heard only good things about this software!

My mount should be here friday, can't wait!

P.

#10 Skylook123

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 11:22 PM

I must say, Peds, that there are enough options to make it pretty confusing!

You understand the situation correctly. Originally, an adapter was needed to step down the serial voltages to TTL levels for the mount. You could do this through modifying the hand controller, build your own adapter, or buy an adapter from Shoestring Astronomy. There are now several other vendors of the same item, including one that has the conversion done inside a straight serial cable.

So, life was good; all I needed was the Shoestring adapter and a straight serial cable since I bought my laptop with a serial port. However, for convenience, the user needs to add some sort of pointing device like a game pad, joystick, one person even uses the controller from Guitar Hero. I use a Rumblepad2 wireless joystick for control at the eyepiece.

About a year or so ago, SynScan came out with firmware V3.20, which added the PC Direct Mode. If it worked as intended, the user would no longer need the EQDir adapter and straight serial cable; just use the cable that comes with the hand controller, and now you can use the direction arrows so no pointing device is needed either. BUT, as you note, for the first couple of firmware versions PC Direct Mode was not ready for Prime Time; it cause lockups and runaways at bad times. However, I retried with V3.24, and it behaved itself. I find the hand controller easier to hold and use than the Rumblepad, but it has no functions other than direction arrows. Seems to work, though!






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