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Automated imaging, rmt cntrl obsv, Time for a software change?

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#1 Ettu

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 12:57 PM

I've been doing semi automated imaging (defined below) for a few years, and am considering the next step of working toward fully automated imaging.

I've been using Maxim DL, but it's been buggy and glitchy, and pricy.

So, what are the alternatives?

 

Here's what I mean by semi automated...

I manually select, GoTo, and center, my target and focus my primary camera.

Then get the auto guider following a guide star

Set up the program to take a series of timed exposures, with auto dithering between each one.

Set it all in motion, check that the first acquisition and dithering is working, and hopefully get an hour or so's nap (6-12 of 5-15min exposures) before the next target has to be set up.

 

So, any alternative to MaximDL? They would have to do at least the above.

Ultimately I'd like to set it up to automatically go to more than one target, and have it auto center, focus, track, and dither.

If I'm going to invest time, effort, & $, in something different, it has to do at least what I'm already doing, with the potential to do an automated nights worth.

 

Here's my equipment:

AP1100 mount with CP4 controller.

Canon DSLR (5DM2) with OAG (ZWO guide camera), or,  SBIG 8300 with integrated filter wheel and auto guider.

Optec absolute position focuser

A Win10 pro pc with plenty of horsepower. Which I remotely monitor and control via windows RDC 

 

I use hard wired ethernet connections wherever I can, USB to most everything else, Serial (Ser 2 USB adaptors) where need be.

 

the scopes are a Televue NP101 or a C11 Edge.

 

 

Edit: to move the scope around  (GoTo) and keep track of where it is, I use an old TheSky 5, which works just fine for now, but I suspect won't anymore if I want to integrate it with software that will auto aquire multiple targets.


Edited by Ettu, 21 February 2019 - 01:08 PM.


#2 OldManSky

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 01:47 PM

I'd suggest SGP - Sequence Generator Pro.

It will do everything you're currently doing and then some, letting you automate the entire process.

 

http://mainsequences.../Products/SGPro


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#3 rkinnett

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 02:30 PM

I'm moving in the same direction but am still manually targeting and have only begun working with SGP.  SGP seems to be the most complete affordable package for Windows.  Here's an example of automatic (single) targeting, auto focusing, auto guiding, and image sequencing in SGP.  The one thing it doesn't handle internally is autoguiding, and this is where I'm uncertain about the possibility of full-night multi-target automation.  I always thought PHD2 needed to be recalibrated at each new target and after meridian flips, but apparently this is not true, in which case you should have no trouble autoguiding with PHD2 while targeting and imaging from PHD2.  Guiding with an OAG might make this less reliable than with a dedicated guide scope if PHD2 ever has trouble auto selecting a suitable guide star.

 

If you're willing to play in Linux, another route you might consider is dual booting Ubuntu-Mate alongside Win10 on your scope-side computer, and running your scope with INDI/EKOS.  EKOS is a bit rough around the edges compared to the bigger budget SGP, but it can handle the whole works.  I still run into hiccups now and then and wouldn't trust a whole clear-sky night to it yet, but it's getting more robust and full-featured literally every day.  My original motivation to try EKOS came from watching Jurgen Kobierczynski's KSTARS full imaging session videos.


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#4 rgsalinger

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 02:35 PM

I'm sure that SGP works for a lot of people in a lot of use cases. I'm not much of a fan, because when I read the posts on their forum, it always sounds like there are a lot of people having various troubles with different bits of equipment and use cases. Still, the price is extremely attractive and many people love it. I got started on automated access about 5 years ago and SGP was not an option. 

 

I routinely use 3 systems that are quite disparate in nature - each has it's own set of hardware and mount driver. My solution came about long before SGP existed. I use a combination of MaximDL, Pinpoint, and CCD Autopilot and have done so for going on five years. I set up my runs every evening and then just log onto the computer at the mount to see how things are going. This gives me multiple targets per night, calibration frames at dawn/dusk, fully automatic guiding, focusing, and accurate pointing/framing. It all just works night after night. This looks expensive but, for example, my copy of MDL is 3 years old as is Pinpoint. I did upgrade CCDAP last year but that's the first time in 4 years that I bothered. So, looking at the five years I've spent maybe 20 dollars a month on software. 

 

Having said all that, the number one key to a successfully automated system is to leave it alone once you get it working. Do not "upgrade". Do not add/subtract components or you will be back figuring things out. The second thing that I do is use a cheap dedicated computer at the mount. Once it's configured and working, it's just left alone. I can't even remember the last time I changed even a driver on two of those systems. That computer is always accessed by a second computer. That computer can be in my home office (back yard and remote use), on the table where I'm imaging in the field, or in the back room at my observatory. That two computer solution also gives me a backup which can be cool if you have a problem. The third thing to consider is reliable secondary hardware - good cables, USB hubs, power supplies - will make your life easy. I use expensive (sad to say) USB 3 Startech Industrial hubs. I can't remember a problem with either of the two I have in current use - one is 4 years old and lives in New Mexico where it gets really cold. The other is closer to home. 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#5 rgsalinger

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 02:39 PM

You should not be using an ST4 cable these days unless you have some edge case - like no computer at the mount. You should be using ASCOM guiding and if you do that then PHD knows where you calibrated your guide camera. Then is can make the necessary adjustments (cosine of DEC and pier side) to make the correct adjustments to the raw data regarding tracking errors. You should also, every time, calibrate at the meridian as high in the sky as you can to get the greatest accuracy. I rarely use PHD these days ( see prior post) but my calibrations in MaximDL last for months without problems, and so will PHD calibrations if you don't set up each night. 

Rgrds-Ross



#6 f430

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 02:41 PM

SGP seems to be the only reasonably decent alternative, though it too is buggy and glitchy, though not pricey. 



#7 han59

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 04:14 PM

I don't think Maxim DL is buggy but  besides MaximDl and SGP there is more acquisition software around you could consider:

 

For Windows:

  • Nebulosity
  • Sharpcap
  • Astroart
  • Prism
  • Voyager
  • APT
  • CCDCIEL
  • NINA

If I forgot one, please tell me.



#8 Ettu

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 05:01 PM

"If I forgot one, please tell me."

 

Audela?

 

Of the little I've looked into a couple you mentioned, I suspect Astroart or Prism might work, but I'll have to look more into them.

I'll also check out the others you've mentioned.

I'm going to have to pay the full price to get back to the latest Maxim DL, plus it appears I'll need DC3 dreams and maxpoint too, to get a coordinated set of software designed for a full nights automated acquisition. A substantial (and continuing) and therefore discouraging outlay.



#9 Ettu

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 05:20 PM

"You should not be using an ST4 cable these days..."

Interesting. One of the glitches (lock ups, disconnects, slow reaction) I had, was using a software connection btwn the guide camera and mount. So I abandoned that, and went back to the old fashioned, well established (ie glitch free) hard wired relay connection, and had no more problems. I suspect that the ethernet communication with the SBIG 8300 (through which the integrated filter wheel / auto guider communication passed) was in fact a clumsy software conversion that Maxim DL then dealt poorly with to another Ethernet communication to the mount. Hopefully Ethernet communication is cleaner these days.



#10 rgsalinger

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Posted 21 February 2019 - 06:01 PM

MaximDL buggy? Hmm. When I took Adam Block's course what did I find him using on the 36" scope in Tucson? MaximDL. When I joined a team of astronomers using a 24" RC at our local dark sky site equipped with absolute encoders what were they using? MaximDL. Just the ability to examine and calibrate subs in the same GUI as you use to image (in close to real time) is a big win for me over SGP. Further, ACP uses MaximDL and it is the premier automation system used by many many remote observatories. When you run remotely, as I do, the last thing that you want to do is be monkeying with the imaging software. 

 

Go on the MDL support site and look at the bug reports. Go on the SGP website and look for problems there. I've been using MaximDL for almost 10 years now through 3 upgrades. I can remember exactly one bug that I ever saw. I image night after night - maybe 150 nights a year - in New Mexico and about 50 nights a year here in San Diego. No bugs. It's a complicated product, for sure, but if there were a lot of bugs, they'd be getting reported on the support forum and they just aren't. Sure, there are things that I don't like about the product, but for me it's always just worked out of the box.

 

As far as the ST4 cable is concerned, if you are getting lockups using the now standard (and recommended by PHD) ASCOM guiding method then please post where you got the cable (and drivers if it's an RS232 converter.) I used an STT8300 for about a year (with MaximDL) and never had a problem with lock ups. However, we didn't use an ethernet cable we were using USB. Frankly, I'm not sure that that STT even had an ethernet connection. I also had a Mach 1 and I remember that AP was quite clear about what kind of converter to use on their mounts.

 

I'd be happy to log onto your system and take a look at what problems you're having most nights. I've helped others in the past. Just PM me. Given the expense of the system you describe, the last thing that I'd worry about is a one time (you don't have to subscribe every year) cost of getting the right software in place. See above - 3 upgrades for me in 10 years of use. 

 

One other thing, I'm a real zealot when it comes to short cables and industrial quality hubs in these systems. Given that SBIG is now owned by Diffraction, you should post over on the MDL support forum with a log file and have them help you out. I've seen so many USB problems sorted out by short quality cabling, better hubs and some care about how it's all connected together. 

 

Rgrds-Ross 


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#11 mikefulb

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Posted 22 February 2019 - 12:34 AM

I would just put Voyager in the mix it looks to be totally designed for automation from the beginning.

#12 iwannabswiss

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Posted 22 February 2019 - 01:26 AM

A free program is called MaxPilote and works with the SkyX and MaximDL.


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#13 Hilbily

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Posted 22 February 2019 - 02:49 AM

Prism pro does it all for me, try it out free for 80 days .

 

https://www.hyperion...y.com/pages/faq


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#14 gregj888

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Posted 22 February 2019 - 03:51 PM

If you were to go with INDI, consider moving the high powered computer inside and putting a smaller computer at the mount. 

 

Use the Ethernet to move the images inside and process there.  Less heat in the observatory, longer life for the big PC.

 

I'm working toward this arrangement and want to use a NAS for image storage.  If fast enough and it should be, want the capture software to write directly to the NAS/RAID.



#15 DuncanM

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Posted 23 February 2019 - 03:56 AM

Astroart 7 can be setup for full automation via it's scripting routines and this can be aided by the addon observatory manager:

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=zVp4hWoPh20



#16 lambermo

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Posted 23 February 2019 - 05:14 AM

For me it's INDI and EKOS and PHD2. Currently hooking up the business logic of my self-built weather station and roof control to INDI. So I hope to be almost there :)

-- Hans



#17 Ettu

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Posted 26 February 2019 - 02:57 PM

Thanks to all who replied. My setup is currently in the basement where I'm reworking its structural arrangement, and rewiring the com and pwr.

I have a couple of weeks yet before I want to get it back out in the observatory, so, while it's still conveniently handy, I'm going to try and test, as well as possible, a couple of software alternatives.



#18 DuncanM

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Posted 27 February 2019 - 05:50 PM

I am just in the process of remotely controlling a CEM60 and CEM120, each with a 10in SCT, a CCD camera, Guidescope/guidecamera, OAG/guide camera and motorized JMI Crayford focuser, in my RoR observatory using Astroart 7

 

A netbook running AA7 will control each mount, both cameras and the focuser using ASCOM drivers. The process will be to use AA7's platesolving engine with local stellar database, to find and centre the target objects through it's mount control interface, place a suitable guidestar into the OAG's (this will be the tricky part and may not happen tonight), autofocus the imaging camera, and then begin a series of subs with autodithering, and autofocusing between subs.

 

I'll control both mounts from my family room workstation via Chrome Remote Desktop and a 5G wifi connection. I have run both under test conditions but I might be able to do actual imaging runs tonight and certainly, weather permitting, by tomorrow.

 

 

AA7 using it's scripting language (similar to BASIC) will provide the automation, autoguiding and autofocusing although I have the option to use PHD2 for autoguiding, since AA7 can communicate with it to indicate when and how to dither.


Edited by DuncanM, 27 February 2019 - 05:51 PM.

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#19 DuncanM

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Posted 01 March 2019 - 05:13 AM

Here is a screen shot from tonight:

 

CRD dual control
 
showing remote control of a CEM60 and CEM120 using Astroart 7 and Chrome Remote Desktop.  The CEM60 is being guided by PHD2 with dither commands being sent from AA7 while the CEM120 is being guided by AA7's autoguider.

Edited by DuncanM, 01 March 2019 - 05:20 AM.

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#20 Hamzakt

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 12:57 AM

Thanks to all who replied. My setup is currently in the basement where I'm reworking its structural arrangement, and rewiring the com and pwr.

I have a couple of weeks yet before I want to get it back out in the observatory, so, while it's still conveniently handy, I'm going to try and test, as well as possible, a couple of software alternatives.

take PRISM for a spin, you have 80 days to see if it fits your style grin.gif https://www.hyperion...pages/downloads


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#21 Bob Denny

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 01:17 PM

Regardless what you use, and I speak from lots of experience (can't say more here), follow @rgsalinger's advice in his post above. I can't stress enough to get industrial strength USB components and cables. Your observatory is not a comfortable office or den. Temperature variations, humidity, dust, it all affects USB (which was never designed for outdoor use!). Most of the pain and suffering in consumer astronomy is at the hands of USB and not at the hands of buggy software or incapable/low-down developers. 



#22 DeanS

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 01:28 PM

I like CCD Autopilot myself.  I use it with SkyX and its camera control add on.  

 

For setting up my runs I use CCD Navigator.

 

I agree with the USB weak link.  99% of troubles I have encountered seem to be related to that.

 

Lots of interesting software for automation available, with even more on the horizon.  Will be getting cheaper and easier as time goes on.

 

Dean


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#23 Bob Denny

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 02:50 PM

As a follow-on from my previous. here's one that just came into us this morning. This issue sucked a lot of our time, and I kept trying to get this person to focus on USB. Finally...

 

 

Discovered that my ZWO camera's failures to download were being caused by a Logitech webcam probably sucking up all the USB bandwidth. I've ordered an Ethernet security camera to replace the webcam. (The camera is a security blanket to ensure that everything is OK in the observatory before starting a plan.)

Sigh... 



#24 rgsalinger

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 11:35 PM

One of the other problems with USB is the nature of the computer that you use. Laptops typically have only one or at most two root hubs. That means that many devices are sharing a hub. My solution has been to use an industrial quality hub to consolidate all of the USB components and then just run one cable to the computer and I do not use a laptop. If you look around (I just built a new computer and some of my old stuff is missing.) there's a couple of USB utilities that are free and can tell you what using what and what devices are on what root hubs. My newest mount - CEM120EC2 - have 5 built in USB ports so I don't use a hub on it - the mount is the hub. The other two systems I use routinely have Startech 7 port USB 3 12 volt hubs. These have been flawless for me. 

 

Oh and my security cameras are networked wirelessly to my router. From there I can see them from home, motels, or in the warming room. They don't go anywhere near the computer I use for imaging. That has as little crap on it as I can manage both hardware and software. 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#25 Ettu

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Posted 17 March 2019 - 12:34 PM

Thanks for the warning/advice regarding USB

The comment that USB equipment is not made for the environments some of us have to work in (45N, and  -20F on some of the best nights) is troubling.

So what do you recommend? Could you be specific?

How about Ethernet equipment?

And I see wireless is becoming popular. For example, Optec's focuser's, AP's mount controllers, some (more and more) cameras...

What is wireless's bandwidth and robustness compared to a "good" USB?

Is software today designed to work well with a mixture? Do we have much choice, or what is the best communication choice as more and more equipment is being asked to cooperate-integrate?

 

I'm using Startech's industrial hub, mounted on board the scope, and their USB cable to the pc

But am forced to add a 4'-6' extension, as it otherwise won't reach the pc - any brand recommendations?

 

Imo, ethernet is the future, but I had troubles using the ethernet connection to my SBIG STT8300, which troubles went away when I went back to USB.  (SBIG's USB cbl direct to the pc) I don't know, but I suspect a software issue? For example all the other Ethernet equipment works without issue (router, repeater, AP1100, RDC, web cam, pwr switchs).  Is that why they (DL) came out with the Lumina series, that seems to be a duplicate of SBIG's? 

 

Sorry for so many questions, I'm just in the process of making work what I hope will be my final setup for the next few years


Edited by Ettu, 17 March 2019 - 12:41 PM.



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