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Presenting Satellite Chaser: A free software made for tracking and guiding on satellites using ASCOM compatible equatorial mounts

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#1 NGC3031

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Posted 26 December 2018 - 01:26 PM

Website: https://sites.google...litechaser/home
Manual: https://sites.google...techaser/manual

 

When I started researching satellite tracking 2 years ago there was basically nothing that enabled me to do it beyond just calculating TLE vectors and blindly tracking where the satellite is supposed to be. Satellite Chaser goes beyond this approach: It allows for precise scope alignment, slewing to the satellite interception point using platesolving and, most importantly, guiding.

 

Here’s a gif showing me guiding on the ISS with my refractor at a pixel scale of 0.88. The camera feed of the telescope was recorded using Sharpcap, but the guide cam feed was processed in Satellite Chaser and Moveaxis commands are given according to the position of the ISS in the guide cam. Note that this is an 800x800 central crop of the sensor of the ZWO 1600.

This software uses the MoveAxis command in the ASCOM protocol. I don’t know which mounts actually support arbitrary MoveAxis commands. If a mount does not support it, a warning message will appear when connecting the mount.

 

I have thoroughly tested all the features and I’m confident that everything works with my setup. But I am using a homemade mount, so things might be different with commercial mounts. In particular I’m looking for feedback on the Live Align tool, I went through a lot of iterations with that tool and I’m not sure it’ll work under all circumstances.

 

I’ve documented all the features in the manual, feel free to check that out.

Also, chrome flags the download as uncommon. I’ve just published the website and google hasn't crawled the file yet, I hope the warning will go away soon.


Edited by NGC3031, 26 December 2018 - 01:26 PM.

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#2 astro_1

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Posted 26 December 2018 - 03:01 PM

Thanks for sharing!  Really appreciate this, as I have been playing with OpticTracker, Satellite tracker on Heavenscape.

 

If this works on my setup you will have made my week.

 

Jeff smile.gif


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#3 Krzysztof z bagien

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Posted 30 December 2018 - 03:53 AM

Hi!
I recently downloaded your program and started testing it with AZ-EQ5 mount. I didn't have a chance to actually chase any satellites yet (because clouds), but I performed several test runs.

I load TLE data, choose a pass, it computes everything and gives me intercept coordinates and time. I can click GOTO button and mount will point where it should. Untill that moment everything works great (AFAICT - I tested it with mount only, so I can't say anything about camera related stuff). But when it actually starts to guide, it works well for some time (several seconds, a minute - it seems to be different each time), and then RA axis stops. Dec still seems to do the guiding.

When that happens, program becomes unresponsive, I can still click buttons etc. and it registers, but with delay, eg. if I click the "stop" button, it will only stop guiding after half a minute or so. EQMOD panel freezes totally, and I can't even perform an emergency stop.

 

Oh, and one other thing - program complains that it can't acces D:\temp\testfile.txt, even though I set temp folder path to be different.



#4 NGC3031

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Posted 30 December 2018 - 04:21 AM

Hi,

 

Thanks for giving my program a try. This problem seems weird, I can't think of a reason what could go wrong on top of my head. I'm not familiar with EQMOD, is it basically an ASCOM layer for the mount? If possible, can you try without it? Also, if there's anything else connected to the mount, try disconnecting it.

 

Concerning  the temp folder: Can you please tell me when exactly this warning is given? Sounds like I forgot some ancient hardcoded code, but I can't find it. Might be related to the tracking problem.

 

Can you PM me the two ASCOM log files of the failed tracking? There should be two, one for the mount and one for the program(starts with ASCOM.Satellite_Guider).


Edited by NGC3031, 30 December 2018 - 04:22 AM.


#5 Dunc

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Posted 30 December 2018 - 06:03 AM

Hi,

 

Thanks for giving my program a try. This problem seems weird, I can't think of a reason what could go wrong on top of my head. I'm not familiar with EQMOD, is it basically an ASCOM layer for the mount? If possible, can you try without it? Also, if there's anything else connected to the mount, try disconnecting it.

 

Concerning  the temp folder: Can you please tell me when exactly this warning is given? Sounds like I forgot some ancient hardcoded code, but I can't find it. Might be related to the tracking problem.

 

Can you PM me the two ASCOM log files of the failed tracking? There should be two, one for the mount and one for the program(starts with ASCOM.Satellite_Guider).

Hi NGC3031

 

This looks like it will be a really interesting bit of software to add to my collection of occasional fun stuff e.g. Virtual Moon. A mate of mine used to track the ISS by hand with his C11 using bluetack blobs on his laptop screen, can't remember the exact details but it was messy and worked, this has to be better!

 

It does need to work with EQMOD though. Just about anyone who uses an Orion/Skywatcher/Synta mount will use EQMOD if they have a camera, there are other mount makes that are compatible as well, as well as some home brew Arduino based mount control setups. It is a mount driver that sits on top of the ASCOM Platform as you surmise and the driver part is actually called EQASCOM. Most info can be gained on the EQMOD forum and the developers are great friendly helpful guys, ask them questions and they always have a great helpful answer.

 

Keep up the good work!

 

Duncan


Edited by Dunc, 30 December 2018 - 06:36 AM.


#6 Krzysztof z bagien

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Posted 30 December 2018 - 06:44 AM

I've sent you the log files - but there's only one for each program run (I guess there's no log for mount itself). Looking into those files - it seems that tracking fails when tracking speed gets to high (it really isn't THAT high, mount can handle much more); eg. it failed when tracking ISS on not-so-high pass, but worked OK for Atlas Centaur rocket body on higher orbit and passing near the horizon - so mount was moving really slowly.
There's nothing connected to the mount (well, nothing but my PC and power), not even a handset. I don't really know how to start your program without EQMOD, it starts automaticly when I select a mount to connect to (only valid option is EQMOD ASCOM HEQ5/6). I guess I'd have to uninstall it or something - but I'm not certain I'd be able to connect my mount to PC at all without it.

 

Temp folder - it's when program calculates satellite pass, it's a .NET Framework error, message says that unhandled exception (That's the word? I'm translating from Polish and I'm no programmer so I don't really know all those fancy words used when something isn't working as it should ;D) in an application had happend, I can ignore it and continue.

Spoiler

Edited by Krzysztof z bagien, 30 December 2018 - 07:04 AM.


#7 RandallK

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Posted 30 December 2018 - 04:03 PM

Not everyone uses EQMOD. I had it on my machine twice but removed it, favouring the Hand Controller. I didn't like the PC Direct mode and using one cable to replace another on the Hand Controller so I prefer the Hand Controller. To each his own...that's all. 

 

Note: I think there was an issue with Pulse Guiding on my HEQ5 Pro and PHD2. I got better results using the hand controller.


Edited by RandallK, 30 December 2018 - 04:05 PM.


#8 Krzysztof z bagien

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Posted 30 December 2018 - 05:41 PM

Of course not everyone uses EQMOD, but running a program like Satellite Chaser without a PC and on a hand controller might not be an easy thing to do wink.gif

PC-Direct isn't really "direct", as you need to connect your computer to the hand controller, and then that controller to the mount - so the whole idea seems inconvenient. The point is to bypass a handset with its limited funcionality entirely and let the computer do all the... well - computing. As i said before - in this case my hand controller isn't even pluged in, mount connects with PC via direct (and that's a proper "direct" mode!) USB cable. That's one of the nice features of AZ-EQ5 - it has USB type B socket, just like your ordinary printer.


Edited by Krzysztof z bagien, 30 December 2018 - 05:42 PM.


#9 NGC3031

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Posted 01 January 2019 - 06:27 AM

I've read up on Skywatcher Mounts/EQMOD. It appears that these mounts have two slewing modes, a fast and a slow one. The slow one allows for continuous speed updates, allowing for smooth tracking. The fast mode, which kicks in at about 0.3deg/sec, requires the motor to come to a full stop before accepting a new speed update. There's a lengthy discussion in the EQMOD yahoo group where the conclusion is basically that you have to modify the firmware on the mount, which is far beyond me.

 

This makes smooth satellite tracking the way I intended it with this software impossible on Skywatcher mounts. Skywatcher users can still use Satellite Tracker, which circumvents this problem by leapfrogging the satellite above 0.3deg/sec.



#10 Krzysztof z bagien

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Posted 01 January 2019 - 02:11 PM

Too bad that tracking at high speed is when high precision is needed.



#11 xkrobin

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 11:29 AM

I have been looking for satellite tracking software that can be used on the ioptron CEM120 mount. The Satellite Tracker could control my Meade 8" LX200, however, there are always issues on my LX200.

I I will test this software on my LX200 and CEM120 and hope it works.



#12 NGC3031

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Posted 10 June 2019 - 03:27 PM

The LX200 should work in theory, but so far no one has confirmed it. The CEM120 will likely not work, a similar problem to the EQMOD mounts. Please let me know how it goes :)



#13 xkrobin

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Posted 12 June 2019 - 12:30 PM

Hi NGC3031,

 

I have tried Satellite Chaser today, it's really amazing software.

The good news is that it works my CEM120 mount via ASCOM 6.4 and doesn't prompt the error about "driver doesn't support MoveAxis command". I have't tried to track any satellite in practice, but the mount moved correctly when I click the "E" button on the GUI. In the release note of ioptron ASCOM drive, it is stated that the "MoveAxis" command has been supported in the versions later than 2014. I will do more tests when I have a clear night .

 

The bad news is that it can not work with LX200-ACF. When connect, it prompt that "The driver of this mount has specified that it doesn't support the MoveAxis command! Tracking might not be possible." I'm not sure if this is caused by the LX200 ASCOM drive. I've found two LX200 drivers on the ASCOM site. One is "Advanced LX-200 Driver", another one is "Meade LX200GPS and LX200R". Unfortunately, both of them doesn't support "MoveAxis". I can control the scope by The Sky X and Stellarium with native Meade command (not via ASCOM), so the connection between the scope and my computer should be good. Do you have some suggestion on the LX200 ASCOM driver?

 

Thanks again for your awesome software! Can't wait to test it in a clear night.



#14 NGC3031

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Posted 13 June 2019 - 03:53 AM

 

The good news is that it works my CEM120 mount via ASCOM 6.4 and doesn't prompt the error about "driver doesn't support MoveAxis command". I have't tried to track any satellite in practice, but the mount moved correctly when I click the "E" button on the GUI. In the release note of ioptron ASCOM drive, it is stated that the "MoveAxis" command has been supported in the versions later than 2014. I will do more tests when I have a clear night .

The problem with these is not MoveAxis support but continuous Speed updates. Can you do a Test Run, as detailed in Section 9.1 in the manual?

 

 

 

 

The bad news is that it can not work with LX200-ACF. When connect, it prompt that "The driver of this mount has specified that it doesn't support the MoveAxis command! Tracking might not be possible." I'm not sure if this is caused by the LX200 ASCOM drive. I've found two LX200 drivers on the ASCOM site. One is "Advanced LX-200 Driver", another one is "Meade LX200GPS and LX200R". Unfortunately, both of them doesn't support "MoveAxis". I can control the scope by The Sky X and Stellarium with native Meade command (not via ASCOM), so the connection between the scope and my computer should be good. Do you have some suggestion on the LX200 ASCOM driver?

The message comes from my software, it checks whether the driver claims to support MoveAxis and gives this message if not.

 

I can implement the meade protocol, shouldn't be too complicated. What appears to be more of a problem is support for arbitrary speed updates. I took a look at the communication protocol, and the 2 commands that look promising are :RADD.D# and :REDD.D# at page 9, which are only supported by LX200GPS. They also appear to only support one digit after the comma. I can make a little test application this weekend.



#15 xkrobin

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Posted 13 June 2019 - 07:49 AM

Hi,

 

Thanks for your response, I will be very grateful if you could use the meade protocol to control LX200GPS. 

I did a few test run, but seem to encountered an error in the calculation of catching coordinates. I have input the correct location Longitude and Latitude in the Setting window, and input a test TLE data in the Satellite Prediction window. The prediction seems accurate, however, the software prompt "RA speed Limit Reached!(8) ... may not be able to handle the speed". The calculated RA and DEC are very large, seems impossible. I'm not sure exactly which step was wrong. The test data is shown below,

 

Location: 35.1064°N, 107.0590°W,   Time:  06:30 AM (UTC -6)

setting.PNG

 

TLE data:

0 RESURS DK-1

1 29228U 06021A   19164.12509228  .00000027  00000-0  94383-5 0  9993
2 29228  69.9366  50.6845 0007306 293.6230  66.4163 15.02442873717123

 

The calculated catching coordinates are:

RA: 5684932599, DEC: 5094466601

Is this calculation correct?

 

There is another minor issue about setting. In the "Aresce/pix" and "Pixel Size" box, the decimal point can not be saved.

I've input "2.9" in the pixel size box and click OK. When I open Setting window next time, the number changed to "29". So my workaround is to change the focal length form 50mm to 500mm ensure right ratio.

 

 

 



#16 NGC3031

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Posted 13 June 2019 - 10:48 AM

It's a long shot, but maybe you are using the chinese symbols for dot and comma, which could mess up the parsing of Longitude and Latitude. Can you try seperating the Longitude and Latitude with a comma(,)? It should be automatically replaced with a dot after pressing OK and reopening the settings window.

 

I honestly don't understand the Arcsec/Pixel problem, but it is likely related. I've tried separating it with both a comma and a dot and it gets correctly converted to a comma for me.

 

I cannot reproduce your example, your given TLE and Longitude/Latitude don't show a pass at 6:30 AM UTC-6 on 12/6 or 13/6. I also need "Altitude to start tracking at" from the Satellite calculation window to confirm that it works. You can verify that the correct coordinates are calculated yourself by checking software like Stellarium. Check there whether the satellite is actually at the position that is calculated by my software at the given time.

 

The range of RA is 0 to 360, the Range of DEC is ±90, so something is definitely incorrect.



#17 Jcounty

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Posted 16 June 2019 - 06:36 PM

I have a Celestron 8” Edge HD  telescope with Alt/Az mount.   First question, will this work together with your satellite tracking software or do I need  Equatorial mount?   Second question, since this Celestron  has built in WiFi  and can be operated without hardwire connection to either iPad or iPhone or alternately a PC. Will your software communicate or be compatible with the system as described or do you need more information? 



#18 NGC3031

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Posted 17 June 2019 - 08:07 AM

You need an Equatorial Mount, Alt/Az is not supported at this point. I'm not familiar with how Wifi connections communicate, if it is still ASCOM it should work. It would probably be better to use a wired connection.



#19 Jcounty

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Posted 17 June 2019 - 10:50 AM

MNGC3031,   Thank you for your reply, I didn’t have much faith that it would work with my mount  but it was worth a try.  I may go EQT  in the near future as I am interested in photography.   The Wi-Fi system from Celestron  has worked quite well so far but this is a new purchase,  time will tell.  


Edited by Jcounty, 17 June 2019 - 10:51 AM.


#20 555aaa

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Posted 18 June 2019 - 04:02 PM

This looks like a very interesting program, and something that my mount would work with.

 

Are you intending this to be a commercial product or shareware? Interested as I am, I am not really willing to load anonymously created executables on any of my computers. Otherwise I think I'd give it a try.



#21 NGC3031

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Posted 19 June 2019 - 01:54 AM

I understand your concern, but I want to stay anonymous. When I was finishing this software I thought about selling it, but the commercial license for a library used in my software is $500, and I would probably never get that back in sales. In retrospect this was a good choice given the fact that practically no mount supports Satellite Chaser.
You can obviously check the exe with an Antivirus. Chrome also crawled the file some time ago and lifted the uncommon download warning. I would've edited the top post but it's no longer possible.


Edited by NGC3031, 19 June 2019 - 01:54 AM.


#22 Jcounty

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Posted 19 June 2019 - 11:58 PM

555aaa:   As noted above this software would not work on my type of mount,  but as with any download there is a chance of infection therefore I can only assume you would Download it to an  independent computer for  testing purposes  



#23 CharlesC

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Posted 21 June 2019 - 08:31 AM

There is always Satellite Tracker, but I think it hasn't been updated in years.

https://www.heavensc.../telescope.html

 

Last update was five years ago.

http://www.heavensca...pjfc4&board=3.0


Edited by CharlesC, 21 June 2019 - 08:32 AM.


#24 darkstar3d

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Posted 22 June 2019 - 05:13 AM

It's a long shot, but maybe you are using the chinese symbols for dot and comma, which could mess up the parsing of Longitude and Latitude. Can you try seperating the Longitude and Latitude with a comma(,)? It should be automatically replaced with a dot after pressing OK and reopening the settings window.

I haven’t tried the program but I’m lost here about Chinese symbols. The coordinates are in the US so where is the China reference coming from? Thanks


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#25 NGC3031

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Posted 22 June 2019 - 07:28 AM

I was trying to debug his problems in using the software. I saw that he was chinese by his location in the cloudynights profile and took a stab in the dark that this might have been his problem. You are right though, these coordinates are indeed american.

This seems to be a one time bug anyway, no one else has reported it so far.




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