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Community college - equipment suggestions welcome!

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#1 modulok


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Posted 23 September 2018 - 01:00 AM

We're a tiny community college looking to setup fully remote video astronomy program.


The idea is we do live video broadcasts via the internet as well has have students and faculty "log in" to the remote telescope to be able to control it e.g. command it to point at a new object. I inherited a fork mounted Meade 16" LX200 classic (the 18-volt circa 1990s era f10 version on an alt-az permanent pier) as well as the dome itself - the whole building. It has mains electricity and Internet. I need to automate the dome, probably via TheSkyX dome module and associated SBIG dome hardware? I need to have weather safety for automatically closing the dome, etc. The mount needs to not get 'lost in space' nor tangle itself up in its own cords, never point at the sun, etc. Must be reasonably safe to be operated (fully remotely) by sane but unskilled students. Must be accurate enough from night to night; I can't go there and do a star-alignment each night. There's going to be nobody in the dome.




1. How critical is having a fast f-ratio for video astronomy? I've herd very differing opinions on this.

2. Is f6.3 fast enough to get reasonable sub-minute frames of brighter deep sky objects? If a kid has to wait 5 minutes for the first frame the "live" aspect is lost.

3. Should I sell the old LX200 and get something like a C11 RASA + goodies on a Paramount instead? (I lean toward Bisque just for their linux support.)

4. Recommendations on remotely operable focusers?

We'd like to run an all linux (raspberry pi) dome - if possible. I know TheSkyX works on raspberry pi linux, as do ZWO cameras (I'm told). Our budget $15-20k. I'm a pretty skilled DIY type of guy, a software programmer and have been in astronomy for years.






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Posted 23 September 2018 - 01:49 AM

FUN! That's all doable... but far from easy. Would also want to have Someone (yourself?) ready, willing and able to go out there in the (likely) event something goes wrong. For at least the 1st year, will feel like you're heading out there continuously. Getting an entirely remote facility running flawlessly is taxing, especially if it is to be user-friendly to marginally-skilled "kids"... and faculty! I worked satellites for decades... which is an admittedly rather extreme case of that.  Tom

#3 nic35


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Posted 23 September 2018 - 09:38 AM

Have you looked around in the observatories forum for ideas ?  Might be good for some of the mechanical details.


Try here:  https://www.cloudyni...-observatories/



#4 A. Viegas

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Posted 23 September 2018 - 11:34 AM


1. It used to be important to use aggressive focal reduction on F10 systems to get images quickly. However new camera technology (CMOS) and very good cheap software (Sharpcap) with live stacking has made the issue of fast focal ratio less important. Yes F6.3 is better than F10. But at F6.3 you will be fine with the newer generation of cameras (like the ZWO 294)

3. So long as the lx200 has an ASCOM input (rs232) you can control it with many different kinds of programs and hardware. For totally remote operation you can try a wireless solution too like a resident Nuc computer that you access via Remote Desktop if you have wifi or Ethernet or you can use a skyFi type of connection which uses wifi

4. Focusers you have many options. For the Meade you can get a custom Meade zero image focuser which is cheap and connect it to a fcusb type of solution into your nuc or pc at the scope for remote focusing. For longer term top end I would recommend a tcs-si which is a great option. Often you can buy those used for a fraction of the price new

All in all the easiest option is most likely to be to leave a laptop or nuc dedicated pc at the scope location for all remote operation and just Remote Desktop or teamvier into it for seamless control from a warm room or auditorium nearby


Edited by A. Viegas, 23 September 2018 - 11:36 AM.

#5 Organic Astrochemist

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Posted 23 September 2018 - 11:17 PM

Great news for you, your school and your students.
It sounds like you have a lot to consider, but I would like to suggest that you also attempt to make some provision for spectroscopy. At least a filter wheel with a star analyzer.

I doubt that any university would have an observatory without the capability for photometry and/or spectroscopy. I think it’s worth considering the equity of opportunities afforded to students at universities and community colleges.

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