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Finally Moving Towards Full Automation!

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#1 WesC

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:25 PM

Hey folks,

I haven't been posting much, but I thought this was worth while to share, as its a big deal for me.

 

I finally got around to diving into CCD Autopilot with my FSQ-106 rig. Its been a long time coming, I've had the software for more than a year, but never felt comfortable with everything enough to start using it, and well... I have some trust issues.

 

But I really need to maximize my imaging time, and still get sleep. So, after spending about 3 hours outside, setting things up, reading manuals and forum posts, adjusting settings, learning how to get guiding to work in CCDAP (VERY different than TSX) and dealing with many, many CCDAP crashes... Grrrrr...

 

I eventually got to a point where everything seemed to be working pretty well and so I went to bed around 11:30PM, expecting to find a smoking pile of ruins in the morning.

 

 

At 4:45AM I gingerly walked outside to check on things and CCDAP was just finishing up the last exposure! It then dutifully reset the rotator, parked the scope, closed the Flip Flat... and then didn't shoot flats. Yeah, I didn't set that up right, I guess.

 

I shot flats "manually" (TSX Take Series), looked at a couple of subs--wow, packed everything up and went back to bed.

 

Turns out that in spite of mediocre seeing and a 50% Moon, this is some of the best, and most consistent data I've ever acquired!

 

I shot 8 groups of 300-second Lum exposures (34 total subs) with an @Focus2 run at the start of each. Not only did that go great, but CCDAP flipped the meridian, rotated the camera 180-degrees and guided beautifully all night.

 

The data had a FWHM range of 1.3-1.7 with an average of 1.409 pixels!

The eccentricity was between 2.9-5.0 with an average of 3.76!

Noise was in the 150 range

 

CCDAP also did a great job with the 4-pixel dithering, and its ability to guide well around all of the focus runs, meridian flip and dithering was pretty amazing, In fact, this was my biggest concern. Once I hit the right settings, which I still don't fully understand, it just worked.

 

This is a HUGE moment for me... the ability to acquire really good data while I get some sleep! On a weeknight no less!

 

Of course, I realize that this is just one night... I need this to work this well consistently, and at multiple sites. But what a great start!

 

 

Here's the Lum process... quite a bit of new stuff going on here... dithering, drizzle, subframe selector (which was the flattest plot I've ever seen!), local normalization, ABE pass, TGVDenoise and a bit of contrast and detail enhancement in Photoshop.

 

Cheers!

 

get.jpg


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#2 rgsalinger

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:36 PM

I don't know why more people don't use CCDAP or something like it. It works really well once you get past the initial wasted night getting things set up. 

 

There are several things that I don't like. I hate that it doesn't link trivially to any planetarium program you might use. I hate that the GUI for setting up multiple targets requires update clicks seemingly with every little change. It's very easy to make a mistake while doing that.

 

Having said that, these days I spend about 20 minutes maximum with it and then leave it alone. I do open up all of the associated software that I use before firing it up, though. That way I know that everything is running on it's own.

 

I also have it set up to send me email under certain conditions (guide star lost for example) and, in particular, send me the log file when it's finished. I can look at the log on my tablet without even getting out of bed to see how it did!

 

I take dawn flats. I worked out how far after sunset I needed to be to get a complete set. Then I just used the same setting with the filter sequence inverted at the same time before sunrise and it worked first time out. 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#3 WesC

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:42 PM

I hate that the GUI for setting up multiple targets requires update clicks seemingly with every little change. It's very easy to make a mistake while doing that.

 

Yes this bit me a dozen times until I figured out that I had to click update for any change I made. Its definitely annoying.

 

I like the email feature, but I wish I could get a text... that would actually wake me up as I don't have my email set to push, or I would never get any sleep!



#4 drmikevt

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:46 PM

Wes

 

I know you are moving in the direction that you are, but, given that you already have a lot of experience with TSX - have you ever tried Ken's automation script?  Forgive me if you have been there, done that, but it really works very well and is very efficient at data collection.  If I can leave my MyT in place, then it literally takes 5 minutes to plug everything in, turn it on, tell the script which target to image and press 'go'.  Then, I don't have to do anything at all until the next morning where all I have to do is put a cap on the now parked scope.  And, as you know, soon we'll have @focus3 on the TSX Pro side of things.  I just want to make sure you've considered this so that you don't have to learn a whole new thing....

 

Either way - good for you!  The first night I was able wake up to see the mount already parked with my image folder full was like a dream (esp. coming from my former CGEM which needed to be babysat all night).



#5 WesC

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 03:01 PM

Hi Mike,

I do have Ken's script, and I have looked it over (and have had several people speak very well of this route), but I have not tried it. Partly because for my needs it would require a lot of nightly typing to put everything in the way I want to run it. Partly because I am a visual person (although very technical) and like a GUI for programming these routines. I like that I can pause or cancel the run, make a small change and get right back to it, that I can see a running log of what's happening... not that Ken's script can or can't do any of these things... I honestly don't know.

 

I did read through it, and Ken has very kindly offered more than once to work with me to learn it and set it up for my needs. But in the end, I had already bought CCDAP, and thought that I really should make a go of it.

 

That doesn't mean I won't use Ken's script in the future though. Since you mentioned @Focus3, I know that CCDWare isn't really aware of the upcoming changes to TSX, and right now CCDAP doesn't talk to @Focus3--which I REALLY want to be using. So, I may jump over to Ken's scripts until CCDAP catches up.

 

Who knows what I may end up sticking with!



#6 baron555

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 03:06 PM

Where does one find Ken's automation script?



#7 DeanS

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 03:15 PM

I really like CCDAP and CCD Navigator together.  Sure helps me get the most out of my imaging runs.    I even use it at star parties so I can go off and wonder around without a worry.

 

Like you some of my best data has been with this set up,and now using the X camera add on finally solved my last issue.  That was Maxim and the dreaded star fade.  Don't have any guiding issues with X like that.

 

Still have occasional hick ups, but either it is my fault, or a gremlin screwing with USB connections. 



#8 CharlesW

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 03:23 PM

Wes

 

I know you are moving in the direction that you are, but, given that you already have a lot of experience with TSX - have you ever tried Ken's automation script?  Forgive me if you have been there, done that, but it really works very well and is very efficient at data collection.  If I can leave my MyT in place, then it literally takes 5 minutes to plug everything in, turn it on, tell the script which target to image and press 'go'.  Then, I don't have to do anything at all until the next morning where all I have to do is put a cap on the now parked scope.  And, as you know, soon we'll have @focus3 on the TSX Pro side of things.  I just want to make sure you've considered this so that you don't have to learn a whole new thing....

 

Either way - good for you!  The first night I was able wake up to see the mount already parked with my image folder full was like a dream (esp. coming from my former CGEM which needed to be babysat all night).

Once you get CCDAP running consistently it is no longer the star of the show, CCDNav is. Controlling target selection and the image count through Nav is invaluable. Scripts just don’t offer that. 


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#9 WesC

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 03:54 PM

I have CCDNav as well... another product I have only peeked at. But I will take a deeper look once I get CCDAP rockin and rollin!



#10 drmikevt

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 04:21 PM

Where does one find Ken's automation script?

Phil

 

You can find it here, but I think you need to be signed into the Bisque website:  https://www.bisque.c...es/default.aspx

 

Caveats:  In my experience, the script is rock solid, but YMMV.  There is no real support.  Ken is often on these forums, and he may have time to answer questions (I really can not speak for him), or I may be able to help, but again, YMMV.  

 - Read the instructions 

 - Re-read the instructions (this is where most people fail)

It does not have a GUI, and is not everyone's cup of tea, but for me it gives me all night 'set it and forget it' imaging, capturing frames MUCH more efficiently than I could do manually or with TSX's 'take a series' function.  BUT - I only image 1, maybe 2 targets a night.  

 - Again, YMMV



#11 ccmdfd

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 04:44 PM

Could you describe your experience with guiding?

I was thinking that it just called up TSX's guiding program.

Thanks

#12 rgsalinger

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 05:31 PM

One nice thing about CCDAP and guiding is that it will automatically adjust the length of the exposure (and the guide rate as a result) to get a good ADU level for the star. You specify what ADU level you want and it estimates the best exposure. The second thing that it does is to reacquire the guide star after every exposure and after a flip. That loses a bit of time but means that it resets the exposure to the correct level each time. 

 

It can use either MaximDL or SKYX. You do need to "initialize" the guding and platesolving. That's another thing, you can specify any sky coordinates that you like and do precision slews until the scope and your plate solving software agree with where you are pointing. I'm not sure that Ken's script does all that but if it does that's great.

 

I've not tried CCD Navigator. I just pick my targets in the SKYX and the retrieve them using the "Get" command. Since I image remotely I have a tiny batch program that copies the subs into my drop box and then I pick them up in the morning. That was a big enhancement for me as the remote observatory that I use has very slow internet.

 

Right now I am able to use the focusing software that comes with Planewave Scopes to focus. It's very similar in theory with the @focus3 in that it takes in the entire frame and optimizes the focus across the frame. This allows me to avoid the overhead of slewing to an "appropriate" star. Since it just uses 5 10 second (or 15 with narrow band) subs, it's not too slow - about 3-4 minutes does it. 

 

I don't usually check my email at night for errors. Sometimes, though I start up at 5PM (6PM at my remote site) and so I can see what's going on later by just looking at my mail before I go to bed. I'm going to look at CCD Navigator if it can serve as a replacement planetarium program. I am just not a fan of the SKYX planetarium - I want it to look like Stellarium (sigh).

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#13 DeanS

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 05:54 PM

Ross, you should watch his quick little video on CCD Navigator.  I like that it can arrange the subs so that each filter is at the best altitude, and then can easily set up the next target for time remaining.  And like Charles said, it keeps track of how many subs you have so far, and how many more needed to reach your goals.  And goals can be modified as you go too.

 

Dean



#14 drmikevt

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 08:12 PM

 That's another thing, you can specify any sky coordinates that you like and do precision slews until the scope and your plate solving software agree with where you are pointing. I'm not sure that Ken's script does all that but if it does that's great.

It does - you can Closed Loop Slew to anywhere or any target or star

 

 I am just not a fan of the SKYX planetarium - I want it to look like Stellarium (sigh).

Amen, brother.

 

Certainly, judging from the posts above, CCDNav is MUCH more robust than Ken's script in terms of arranging and keeping track of things.  But, if you tend to just image 1 target until done and then move onto the next, or even if you do 2 or 3 targets a night it works great.  You can specify multiple targets, and the number of frames for each (of course).  It does have some system analytics that help it to choose the best guiding parameters.  It will choose the best guide star, and re-choose the best one after every dither.  It will dither once a series instead of every frame (BIG time saver).  It provides real time feed back on the quality of your frames so, if you are monitoring the system, you can tell if things are going south.  It will even wait until astrological twilight before it starts imaging.  So, if your system is set up, you can tell it to 'go' at 5pm and then go get some dinner and it will wait until twilight to start.  It will monitor temp and refocus every x degrees, or every x minutes.  It will park the scope at morning twilight.  It will stop imaging once the target is below a defined alt.  It will auto-pause for clouds to pass if guiding starts to fail.  My point is not that its so great, but that it is more robust than you might think.  But - you do have to slog through the task of actually counting your own subs.  :)



#15 rockstarbill

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 10:02 PM

Am I misunderstanding what is happening here, or did you just use a $200 piece of software to automate SkyX which is an extremely expensive piece of software in its own right? If anything this post should posit and make clear that SkyX has massive downfalls and the users of it cannot achieve full automation without resorting to other solutions. 

 

Now, I find this hard to believe, as I know a number of SkyX users that are able to run fully automated imaging sessions without the need for CCDAP...

 

You have people on SGP, a $99 piece of software, doing this with ease... What am I missing?  



#16 WesC

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 10:25 PM

A lot apparently... sigh. But go ahead and **** all over the thread.



#17 rockstarbill

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 10:51 PM

A lot apparently... sigh. But go ahead and **** all over the thread.

Well, you could explain? I looked up the software you mentioned and it seemed pretty interesting. I just dont get why SkyX would need that? shrug.gif

 

Dont let my inquiries take away from me being pleased to see someone is getting automated results they like. I thought the image was very nice as well. My pondering is more about the software used here.


Edited by rockstarbill, 12 October 2017 - 10:56 PM.


#18 jhayes_tucson

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 11:49 PM

Hey Wes,

Congratulations!  It's a big day when you finally get everything automated so that it will run unattended all night.  Once you have it all running reliably night after night, the next step is to go remote!  Not having to be up all night--or even out late with the scope is life changing.  Keep up the good work...

John



#19 srosenfraz

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 11:50 PM

 

I hate that the GUI for setting up multiple targets requires update clicks seemingly with every little change. It's very easy to make a mistake while doing that.

 

Yes this bit me a dozen times until I figured out that I had to click update for any change I made. Its definitely annoying.

 

I like the email feature, but I wish I could get a text... that would actually wake me up as I don't have my email set to push, or I would never get any sleep!

 

 

You can use e-mail to send a text message to your cell phone.  You just send it to your 10 digit cell phone number @ your cell phone carrier's SMS gateway.  So, for example, I have a Verizon cell phone, so I send my email messages to 1234567890@vtext.com

 

There's a pretty complete list of SMS gateway addresses at http://www.emailtextmessages.com/



#20 drmikevt

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 08:27 AM

I have a Verizon cell phone, so I send my email messages to 1234567890@vtext.com

How'd you get a number like that?  Amazing!

 

 

 I just dont get why SkyX would need that? shrug.gif

 

 

Bill

 

There are many reasons that one might choose TSX, despite the cost, but no one every said it was perfect.  It is true that, currently, TSX lags behind some others (particularly SGP) in terms of full automation.  It has some basic automation features - it can take a series of images in a couple different ways, but it does not have anything approaching the complexity of SGP's automation control.  The developers are working towards bringing about more functionality, but that is a slow process.  In the meantime, TSX does allow itself to be fully controlled by outside forces and is highly scriptable, so people have come up with tools to more fully automate the software.  So, why would someone use this expensive software, despite its flaws?

 - First of all, it is free for anyone who owns a Paramount.  So, there's that.  

 - If you do own a Paramount, there are significant advantages to using the software in terms of how precisely the mount is controlled, and this is esp. important if you plan to do unguided imaging.  

 - If you are like me, and are stubbornly and illogically committed to Mac based imaging, then it is the best choice, even if you don't own a Paramount - it remains the most robust imaging platform on the Mac (although Cloudmakers is making great progress, and there is the whole INDI thing, but we don't need to go there right now).  

 

Those are just some of the reasons.  But it is true - the developers need to catch up to the tools that hobby imagers now consider standard.



#21 StrStrck

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 08:36 AM

 

I hate that the GUI for setting up multiple targets requires update clicks seemingly with every little change. It's very easy to make a mistake while doing that.

 

Yes this bit me a dozen times until I figured out that I had to click update for any change I made. Its definitely annoying.

 

I like the email feature, but I wish I could get a text... that would actually wake me up as I don't have my email set to push, or I would never get any sleep!

 

Try the app IFTTT (If This Then That) 

you can program links between a wealth of apps. So an e-mail could make your Philips Hue lights flash or generate a message on your phone. Available for iOS, don't know about other platforms.


Edited by StrStrck, 13 October 2017 - 08:42 AM.


#22 cfosterstars

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 11:44 AM

I have been using SGP for full automation and accept for clouds ruining the night or my own stupidity, I have had very good success with multi target full automation. I uses EQMOD for scope control. SGP works seamlessly with CdC and will work with Stellarium. I use PHD2 for guiding and it does auto plate solve and target acquisition. The auto meridian flip works well. I dont have a camera rotator so I dont know how it work with one, but it certainly has the option for it. I set it for "manual" rotator. It plate solves and tells you which direction and how much to rotate the camera. I use pixinsight for stacking and it seems to handle mixures of east and west captured images and just rotates them to which ever you set as the master. 



#23 rgsalinger

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 12:42 PM

Since I own a Paramount, the SKYX cost me nothing. So, I'm just out roughly the same amount of money that I would be with SGP. I always recommend SGP to folks starting out, though because I think that's it the cheapest quality imaging solution out there. Personally I just don't want to learn new software at this point and I'm paid up with CCDAP and I need the SKYX.

You should note that the SKYX does a ton of stuff that those of us who just do pretty pictures don't care about and it has some other stuff like accurate polar alignment, unguided imaging (if you own a Paramount), satellite tracking that you aren't going to see in SGP. (I never thought I'd track an asteroid until one night someone asked me to do it. I got amazing results and thank you note.) 

 

With regards to the SKYX and full automation, there are some missing items that require additional software (AFAIK and I learn all the time) to be fully automated. First it's just one target at a time and that's that. Second, every Paramount stops at the meridian (or two hours or so beyond the meridian). So, you have to image on one side or the other. In other words there is no automated meridian flip and guide star re-acquisition. Finally, it has (to my knowledge) no way to park the mount and warm up the camera at the end of a run. 

 

CCDAP adds a few things to the mix for me. First, I set up 3 or 4 targets and collect data when they are high in the sky each night. Second, it takes dawn flats for me. Third, I can set it up to run at 8PM or whenever I want to. So I can leave the house and just let it run. Fourth, it emails me when there are problems and at the end of the run I get a log in my email. It adjusts the guiding so that I am getting the best possible star- no dim stars or bright stars by accident.CCDAP has a bunch of other tools and wizards like temperature controlled refocusing (or periodic refocusing), can be easily used to measure filter differences in focus and exposure characteristics that might not be in SGP and certainly are not in the SKYX. It also manages the weather for me can close the roof if there is wind or there are clouds. 

 

Rgrds-Ross



#24 baron555

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 01:04 PM


With regards to the SKYX and full automation, there are some missing items that require additional software (AFAIK and I learn all the time) to be fully automated. First it's just one target at a time and that's that.

Yep

Second, every Paramount stops at the meridian (or two hours or so beyond the meridian). So, you have to image on one side or the other. In other words there is no automated meridian flip and guide star re-acquisition.

LTI does automatic flips....works great......problem is it doesn't tell PHD anything and therefore unless PHD is lucky, you lose guiding.

 



#25 rgsalinger

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 01:57 PM

LTI is a beta release of a limited version of the SKYX which includes some additional functions - mostly better focusing - but is missing many essential features. If you really want to start integrating software packages "on your own" for fun, then go to it. I don't. I'll wait until it has all of the features that I need in a typical night. (I can live without satellite tracking.)

 

To me the essential idea is to buy what you need and use that until there is a really profound reason to change it or to upgrade. That's because I LOVE just turning the system on each night and getting data. I do not love trying to figure out what bugs have cropped into a new release or (even worse) some new thing that needs integration.

 

Don't get me wrong, I recommend SGP as a terrific starting point (if you don't have a Paramount).I also try really hard to avoid EVER recommending changes in hardware or software to anyone as a "solution" unless there is a really clear reason to do so. Every change I make takes too long to fully integrate - it's expensive in clear sky time which I just don't have enough of.

 

Frankly, once you've invested a few K USD into a system, the price of software you can use "forever" is trivial.

 

Rgrds-Ross




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