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Forum noob intro post and ETX-70 controller problem(s)

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#1 Vinito

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 12:29 AM

Hi folks. Brand new to the forum and this is my first post.

I'm old now, but when I was a kid my folks bought me a Jason refractor on a wobbly alt/az mount with wooden legs. The thing was horrible, but I had SO much fun with it! I was able to see several things including Jupiter's bands and red spot, which I'm pretty sure was larger back then but it could just be my old eyes so...

 

I was stirring around the web lately and noticed that the technology seems to have brought awesome astrophotography results for tightwad hacks like me in their light polluted backyards, so that's very cool. I'm thinking I might try some of that out someday, but I will be stuck with a day job for several more years on top of the lack of energy (from just being old) so I don't see myself diving in very deep for some time. Just seems like the late nights would be pretty tough to integrate into my routine. But the occasional little backyard star party might be fun, so I'm dipping my toe in again.

 

So I picked up a used Meade ETX-70 kit today. The thing appears to be in fantastic condition for being 20 years old. I don't think it was used much at all. It came packaged in the original box and everything was even still packed into their original bags, so it at least wasn't used enough to lose any of the original packaging. However, despite the condition, the hand controller (and who knows what else) has issues that I'd like to address somehow.

 

First I'll mention that for years I owned a Celestron 8" SCT but (for me anyway) the thing was so cumbersome that I hardly ever hauled it out. This is why I thought the handy little package of the ETX-70 might be a pretty good fit for me. I know the achromatic configuration isn't the greatest, the GOTO mount is only slightly more than a toy and I won't expect miracles. But since I'm just dipping my toe in anyway, this seemed like a frugal place to start becoming familiar with things again.

 

I took a quick terrestrial view through the optics today and I will admit that it is tons better than the old Jason, so there's that. I say woohoo!

 

So FYI nearest I can figure, the handpiece is a 495 Autostar (has all the digit buttons and is from 1999)

 

But the problem is that when I power up the thing, the handpiece LCD screen did nothing - the red backlight came on (and of course the beep happens), but that's it. So I cracked the handpiece open and looked things over. I always suspect those flex cables, especially after decades of aging, and I think that might be where at least the first problem lies. If I wiggle the screen position a bit and power it back on, I can get the screen to display various things. Sometimes it will be two rows of blank borders around the characters, sometimes various gibberish, sometimes one straight horizontal line, and every once in a while it will even display what looks like a semi-successful boot... something like "Meade Autostar" on the top line and a scrolling message about not searing your retina with the sun on the lower line, but eventually it fades out and goes dark.

I'm fairly adept with even tiny soldering and even know a little (not much) about electronics, so if somebody can point me in a direction I can start, I'll give it a go. Cain't hurt it much at this point anyway, right? well maybe I guess.

 

So alternative to getting the handpiece actually fixed, or replacing it (for the cost of what I paid for the whole smash so far frown.gif ) I wonder if there is a way I could try controlling the scope with a laptop and some software? I'm sure I could make the necessary cable if it requires that. Ultimately, it might be cool to outright replace the handpiece with one I build myself, but that's probably overkill and not worth it for this scope and would suck a ton of time figuring it all out (if the protocol is even available to hack it), so I think the best route might ultimately be to replace or repair the hand controller. But in the meantime, I sure would like to see if the scope at least moves around like its supposed to before I start wasting more money.

 

So I guess two questions in summary:

First, is there a way to control this ETX with a laptop and some software if I build a cable to suit so I can try it out before proceeding further? (if so, can you please point me in the right direction?)

Second, anybody here kinda knowledgeable about these hand controllers and point me in a good direction to start troubleshooting it? I have some good bench equipment (bench multimeter, power supply, oscilloscope, etc.). I would be more than happy to snap some photos or video to help illustrate what's going on. I'll even attach one so you can see what I got and what I'm looking at here.

 

Thanks a ton for any help.

I've been enjoying lurking for the past few days. I like this forum!

Who knows?... This round I might get hooked pretty deep and end up with an Apo quadruplet, decent mount, auto guiding & good camera, etc. etc. etc.... We'll see how that all shakes out over time. Baby steps.

 

ETX bench.jpg

 

edit to add: By the way, I'm thinking about hacking a simple camera to this thing to see if I can get some cheap imaging done even if it's bottom of the barrel. Raspberry Pi has a camera with no IR filter on it which might be interesting to play with. Even if it doesn't work well, it's dirt cheap. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself already, I just thought that might be interesting to look into.


Edited by Vinito, 15 January 2020 - 01:26 AM.


#2 OzAndrewJ

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 01:52 AM

Gday Vinito

 

There are several remote handox utilities that will allow you to fully remote control the 497 handboxes.

All you need is a Meade 505 cable ( simple rs232 converter with Tx/Rx and Gnd lines only )

You can buy these but they are very simple to make and wiring diags are on the net

Then you need a remote handbox app for full control

Meade have one in their AutostarSuite app

I have one in my PEC editor http://members.optus...om.au/johansea/

and PEMPro has one.

If they work and show data, then more than likely something has gone wrong in the LCD controller unit.

No one has found a drop in replacement LCD for these units, but some have hacked other screens.

 

Ultimately, it might be cool to outright replace the handpiece with one I build myself, but that's probably overkill and not worth it for this scope and would suck a ton of time figuring it all out (if the protocol is even available to hack it),

All the smarts are in the handbox. The motor card protocols are well known and detailed

( ref the roboscope site ), https://groups.io/g/RoboScope

 

but if you go that way, you will have to do all the math associated

with positions and speeds etc. The motor cards are just semi dumb units that will go at a set speed when asked and report back number of encoder transitions when asked.

Its up to you to define datums, calc arcsecs from encoder ticks and do mount modelling.

 

Andrew Johansen Melbourne Australia



#3 NearVision

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 03:11 AM

I don't know if this will help. I had a similar problem with the controller for a ETX125. It was the contacts on the ribbon cable for the display inside the handset had oxidized. I tried cleaning them with some contact cleaner and it helped. Be very careful when cleaning these. I found out the hard way that you can clean the contacts right off the cable end! I recently purchased a roll of copper tape to 'repair' the contacts. This is a second handset for me so it won't hurt too much if it doesn't work. If you google for random display gibberish on Meade scopes you can find some people asking about it with possible fixes.

 

Good Luck!

Be VERY careful not to kink the ribbon or rub off the contacts if they are heavily oxidized.



#4 Vinito

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 11:05 AM

@ NearVision: Thanks. I did already try cleaning the contacts and it didn't change nuthin', which I'm pretty sure is due to the fact that the ribbon is already kinked frown.gif . When I first cracked the case open, right at where it's supposed to be a smooth curving bend, the ribbon has a sharp-ish fold which created a sort of "scar" of a raised de-lamination bump across the ribbon. Indeed straightening the ribbon before powering up does change what it displays, but not in any predictable way. As bad as this may sound, I suspect that this kink is not the only spot on the ribbon which may be causing its own problems either. Uugh.

 

@ OzAndrewJ: Thanks for the links and stuff. I'll try looking around for handbox utilities. I guess if I can just arrange things so I can simply "see the screen", then I should be able to move forward. I have some DB9 connectors and I think I have some network cable ends, though I don't have a crimper other than a punch-down tool, so maybe there is a cheap new tool in my future. I just need to search around to find out which wires connect to which terminals I guess and I'll be gold. I think I have an old laptop which has a serial port still, but if not I might need an adapter. Well I'm pretty sure I have a couple FTDI serial/USB adapter boards around so that would probably do it too I guess.

It's too bad the LCD units aren't available at all, but not surprising. I'm sure Meade, if they offered any help at all, would only have the whole hand unit available, and I would guess they don't even offer that. I see a couple on eBay, but of course they might be no better than what I've got (crapshoot) plus it looks like they want as much for these as I paid for this whole scope. I could blow the money if it would work, but I need to verify that 1) I only have the one and no other crippling problems first and ) said problem is in the hand piece.

 

"but some have hacked other screens."

If that's the case, I wouldn't mind doing that at all. Honestly I'm jazzed up about this prospect as it would be cheap and only require some care. The skill for this is already in my stack, just not the full knowledge regarding parts/protocol compatibility.

I can make a more bulky screen look OK if I could just make the thing function. I'm not near the scope ATM so I can't verify how many leads it has running down the ribbon, but IF it's a pretty standard protocol & pinout I might even already have an LCD to suit. It's just a 2-row, 16 character LED right? Not sure if it needs special driver match or something, but if I could hack the screen I'd be extremely happy with that. While I'm in there I could replace the electrolytics and maybe it could last a while.

If anyone knows or can point to a place to hold my hand through hacking the screen, it would be much appreciated. I'll try searching myself, but for whatever reason that seems esoteric enough to not be easy to get a hit. I've already done a bit of searching for various applicable strings and nothing regarding a screen hack has surfaced for me.

The red backlight is an eventual 'nuther thing to figure out, but that's only a luxury compared to just displaying the data.

 

It appears the most logical troubleshooting effort has three tasks. 1) I'll look for the RS232/RJ45 (or wait, that connector is an RJ11 isn't it?) cable pinout & put that together, 2) see if I can dig up either a serial ported computer or a USB/serial module tonight, and 3) arrange software I need to run, which I'm not quite at all sure what to do there yet, but maybe it will be self-explanatory or at least simple enough to figure out.

 

The alternative/next effort is probably hacking a new screen into the hand piece. I am aware that this will involve some tight soldering and small wires, but I'm pretty adept at soldering and I'm certain I have appropriate wire to pull it off.

 

It's possible that I already have the stuff necessary to do both of these in my junk shelves. I just need to figure some stuff out for either.

 

Man, if anybody has done a writeup of a screen hack, that would be wonderful. If not, I'll write it up and post it on this site with photos and schematics, etc. I just need a little help or direction to get started probably.

 

Any further help is appreciated. I can use as much as you care to offer.


Edited by Vinito, 15 January 2020 - 12:27 PM.


#5 OzAndrewJ

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 03:05 PM

Gday Vinito

Re pinouts for the 505, lots of places you can see that but have attached one of my old diags.

Also, Weasners site is a goldmine of info here

http://www.weasner.c...r/as_cable.html

As to screens, we need to know what what type you have as Meade have used several versions

over the years and the main difference is the ribbon cable width

http://www.weasner.c..._schematic.html

A semi drop in was found for the old wide cables, but not the new narrow ones.

The problem is the screens have the controller chip embedded in epoxy on the glass

and you need the correct ones as the firmware control commands are designed to

suit the type of controller.( and Meade write to the CGRAM to program special chars )

//  The old ones use a Seiko Epson S1D12303 controller codes, the new use the HD44780

 

Andrew Johansen Melbourne Australia

505cable.gif



#6 Vinito

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 03:31 PM

Ahh, thanks. Didn't know the LCD driver was embedded in the display. Bummer (probably). I'll snap a photo of what I have tonight and post it. I do know that the ribbon is the centered one rather than the later offset one, but I need to take a look and do some measuring to report further. Thanks for the diagram - it's the clearest, easiest-to-follow one I've seen.

 

By the way, I see a ton of info on the LX200 stuff and much less (though some) for the ETX stuff. I gather that most of the commands in the protocol are similar, but is hardware generally compatible between these types? I would guess what comes is a very convoluted answer starting with "it depends" and varies a lot between models and years, but thought I'd ask anyway.

 

Eureka moment though!

I have made a bit of a decision at least. This occurred to me just today: I only spent around $80 for this thing so if solutions are gonna take several hours or more than $30 or so, I'm gonna surrender and call it "tuition". What that means is, if hacking this thing resists me very much, I'm gonna declare that it wasn't meant to be this simple and liberate the OTA from the drive and just invest in a lightweight, current and more dependable & accurate drive & tripod. I still want to stay at entry-level cost, but maybe an Ioptron Cube or something - the choice is TBD after some research and questions. I am a machinist by trade so I can make a mount for the ETX-70 tube and use it for a while, becoming familiar with operation of the mount, etc. and be able to step up to higher quality optics once I outgrow it. Dunno if I should step up to even better mount considering my next step, if it comes, will likely be pretty decent. But like I said, I'll be determining that later. Maybe this 70 can be an auto-guiding scope or something eventually.

 

OK, now that I've threatened this drive thing with future residence at the landfill, maybe it will quit being such a pain. This was supposed to be easy entry back into the hobby!


Edited by Vinito, 15 January 2020 - 03:35 PM.


#7 OzAndrewJ

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 03:50 PM

Gday Vinito

If you mean the low level "motor commands", then they have the same basic numbering system between ETX and LX200, but different formats and precisions.

Also the clocking and data line arrangements are different between models

If you mean the serial commands from PC to mount, the commands available depend on the firmware loaded as it has changed a lot over time. You need to read the Meade protocol pdf and see what fits your model.

Re the LCD, if its the wide one, then google  "OPTREX autostar" and you will get hits on what some people ended up with.

Another user recently found this

https://www.cloudyni...-497controller/

 

Andrew Johansen Melbourne Australia


Edited by OzAndrewJ, 15 January 2020 - 03:53 PM.


#8 Vinito

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 06:54 PM

Well here's the board & display in my controller. And by the way, the crease in the ribbon is right underneath the glare so it's difficult to see - sorry 'bout that. You can kinda see some of it if you look close, but it spans the whole width.

 

1.jpg

 

I can take closeups if anybody want to see more.

 

Long story short though, I'm almost across the line regarding punting on this drive. I'll post asking for thoughts on that in the "drive" heading, but I'm kinda leaning toward something that has autoguiding so it will be a relatively easy add-on option rather than a future headache. The ones that appeal today are the iOptron SmartEQ pro and the Sky-Watcher EQM-35. These are both a tad lighter mass but large enough to work a nice Apochromatic I may get in the future. I was considering an iOptron cube, but it looks like there are calisthenics you have to do to get them to autoguide ( = headache). Plus, it isn't a ton less expensive anyway.

 

I guess this still qualifies to be under the Meade heading though because for at least some while, I'll just be mounting the ETX-70 to it and starting to become familiar with equipment and software and learning things. And of course if I don't get hooked in the end, it won't be as much investment to try to unload either. I dunno yet if I'm gonna use whatever I have a lot. I might become a nut on it (I tend that way) but it might fizzle out. 

 

I guess there's no need to toss the drive right away. I might run across something I can do a mind-meld between them and bring something to life. At this point though, I don't need a bunch of research and long-term intricate project just to get a "toy" scope to track. I was kinda wanting to skip that part for a while and just observe and maybe try to catch some images.

 

Any thoughts welcome though. I haven't stepped off the plank quite yet, but I'm close.


Edited by Vinito, 15 January 2020 - 06:56 PM.


#9 OzAndrewJ

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 07:08 PM

Gday Vinito

If the screen doesnt work, you can still try remote handbox apps

That will get you anything the handbox can do, but you need a Lappie.

 

Andrew Johansen Melbourne Australia



#10 Vinito

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 08:14 PM

Thanks Andrew.

That's good to know and I will try that for troubleshooting at a later date. Certainly nuthin' wrong with nailing down the exact problem(s) this drive & controller have.

But I guess I have decided that I have passed the line I want to deal with at this time. I'm usually pretty determined type, but in this case the thing was so inexpensive that the last straw was very weak to begin with and thus very easy to reach in a hurry.

I was looking into the Sky-Watcher AZ-GTI and thinking that for this quality of scope, it would be a pretty nice device to jump onto. It's pretty inexpensive as those things go, and I know it's not a high-precision drive, it probably matches what the old Meade drive contained mechanically while being electronically way more up-to-date. Apparently it will accept a SynScan hand controller if I want to try that route (picking the compatible one), and if I want to use Ascom and a laptop, it will even do fancy camera polar alignment and auto-guiding. If I get into it some, I could give that a try at least and maybe start to become familiar and gain a bit of experience with those types of tricks and not pay way overboard now just trying to get this ETX usable. It looks pretty nice and the WIFI connection to a tablet (or whatever) would make hopping around pretty slick in my opinion. I may go that route unless I'm made aware of something similar but better if that exists. And I am aware that I'll have to make a mount for the OTA, but I'm a machinist by trade so that's not a problem at all.

 

So the Autostar is on hold at best for now.Thanks all for the input and help. I'll be around.

If you have any advice or comments regarding the AZ-GTI, please let me know. I'll post a quick ask in the mounts heading a bit later for thoroughness.



#11 NearVision

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 08:27 PM

Hi Vinito,

 

I've been following this because I had an ETX70 and remember it as a nice little scope. The clutch broke on mine 1 cold winter night last year so I gave it to a friend that likes to tinker. I have the AZ-GTI mount and can tell you it's a nice little mount if you get a good one. There are a few very active topics here on CN about them to check out. Setup and alignment is very simple. The biggest limits are the 11lb weight limit if you want to use a bigger scope and your phone or tablet is the handset so if your phone is too small you need to get a bigger phone! :)

If I remember correctly the ETX70 has a plate on the bottom for a 1/4-20 bolt like a camera tripod. My ETX125 does. If it has that you can get a vixen mount bar to connect it to most mounts.

 

You also might search for a used handset or another scope with something else broke but a good handset for cheap and mix n' match.



#12 Vinito

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 10:19 PM

Well I ordered the drive yesterday and it's supposed to already be here tomorrow (woohoo!). I need to make a mount to put it together. But since it's the weekend, rather than machine one I'll just 3D print one to get me through a few days and allow for some playing.

 

After work today, I studied the Mead a bit and figured out how to remove the tube. Kinda had to disassemble most of the drive to do that, but it's just a few screws so it'll go back together if I ever end up turning attention to the old mount. Honestly though, the AZ-GTI seems so fancy compared to the 1999 technology that I'm guessing the old Meade drive is probably destined for parts for somebody at best.

 

I guess I'm ready! Well there's the dovetail thing still but that should only take a couple hours of waiting on the printer to churn one out.

 

I tell ya though, it's been so long since I looked through a telescope that my eyes are much older so I hope I can still see OK through the thing. Wish me luck.


Edited by Vinito, 16 January 2020 - 10:19 PM.


#13 Myk Rian

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 10:46 PM

I've been messing around with my etx-80 and have found the OTA can induce image shift when focusing. Works the same on the 60 and 70. I used transparency printer sheet to make a sleeve around the tube to tighten it up.

 

I bought an etx-90 just yesterday, with the #883 Tpod for $100. Search on FaceBloat Marketplace and Craigslist. I was looking at 2 of them for sale. They show up quite often.

It's a Mak/Cass with a longer fl of 1250mm than my Meade DS-90 refractor at 1100mm.

 

I believe that de-forking the OTA on the 60-70-80 scopes employs cutting the axles off. The 90-105-125s de-fork with 4 hex screws, if I'm looking at mine right.

 

I have a SmartEQ Pro. My Meade Adventure 80 is on it most of the time.  It would carry any of the ETX scopes well. My 1100mm DS-90 tends to shake a little, but that's the Tpod. I'm looking for a mount in the 25-30 lb load range. iOptron has discontinued the Smart EQ.

 

Keep the 70 for a tabletop scope, (did you get the legs with it?) and check the ad sites every now and then.



#14 Vinito

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 11:30 PM

Thanks.

After taking the thing apart, I feel the psychic gears are now greased for diving right in for other tasks too. I'll look into that image shift issue. Your shim idea is dead simple, so I like it already.

 

Mine did not come with legs, but I machine stuff all day for a living so I could probably whip some out. But it'll be living on the AZ-GTI for a while anyway. I'm doing this as kind of a re-introduction into the subject. Depending on whether I try to get into capturing some images and try my hand at post-processing (which I'm pretty sure I will), I'm more likely to build myself a wedge and a counterweight. I know this equipment is pretty modest for that kind of work, but with it I can gradually try out the procedures and get familiar with the software workflow over time. If I get the bug bad enough, I'll gradually step up to more refined equipment, but I have a lot of irons in the fire already so I don't mind taking my time with it. The fact that I've been drawn in this far in the midst of all the other things I'm working on is kind of a sign that I couldn't not do it, so there's hope for me to stick with it long term even if it's a rather slow progression.

 

The more I visualize using that new mount with the tube, the more I'm glad I bit the bullet and blew the money. I think this is gonna be fun.



#15 Myk Rian

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 10:49 AM

A mount makes all the difference between enjoying it, and fussing with a photo tripod.



#16 DAVIDG

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 01:32 PM

 You might look at the voltages coming out of the MAX232 IC. The LCD needs + 12 and -12 and it gets them from the MAX232. I had an autostar were the screen looked dead and it was because these voltages were not present. It turned out that  one of the  surface mount caps used as part of the charge pump on the MAX232 was bad.

    As for controlling the mount externally I would recommend building or buying an RS232 to Bluetooth adapter and controlling the mount with Sky Safari  Plus or the Pro version and an Android  tablet  Once aligned all you do is tap on the object you wish to observe and hit the Goto button on Sky Safari. The Sky Safari interface also has the buttons to slew the mount  like the controller does with the button on it and a slider to easily adjust the slew rate. I find it MUCH easier to use then pushing buttons on the hand controller.

    Here is  a picture of my interface when I was building it. It cost me about $10 in parts. By the way the the serial port of the Autostar uses a  common handset telephone cable  ( bewteen the phone and the hand set not the cable that goes from the phone to the wall)  and I'm powering the interface  the off the AUX port on the mount which has +12 on that is dropped to +5 with  a LM7805 regulator. 

 

               - Dave 

 

   

Attached Thumbnails

  • BT to RS232 adapter.jpg


#17 Vinito

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 09:41 PM

Got the mount today, 3D printed a dovetail, set up the app and played around with it a bit. At least the Meade tube has been given new life. It's a cute little thing.

It's all suddenly working and of course the weather is about as bad as it can be. Freezing rain, sleet, snow, wind... uugh. So my apologies to the rest of you for messing your weather up by making a new astro purchase.

 

I do like this mount. I bet you don't hear of a lot of guys on this forum who have overkilled their OTA with a AZ-GTI. Something to grow into I guess.

This will suit me for a few nights out though. I'm gonna let the experiences speak to me and tell me which direction to go next. For now, I'll be pretty pleased if I can orient this stuff and try some GOTO's. That's a totally new thing for me.

 

Together.jpg


Edited by Vinito, 17 January 2020 - 09:41 PM.

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#18 jgraham

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 10:31 PM

For many years I did quite a bit of remote imaging with a variety of Autostar scopes including the ETX-60. I always used the Remote Handbox utility that was part of the Meade Autostar software via the #505 serial cable. It worked great!

#19 Vinito

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Posted 18 January 2020 - 08:57 PM

Well wonder of wonders, I had about an hour of clear skies tonight so I was able to try the little scope out. I'm actually quite surprised how well it performed! This little Meade probably isn't something you'd brag about to your Sensei, but so far I'm pretty happy with how sharp of an image it was able to give me tonight. It's tons more convenient to carry out to the yard than even my old toy scope when I was a kid, and yet the image is quite a bit better that junk was (too obvious?).

And the new mount worked like a charm. I was pleasantly surprised how well it centered things in the eyepiece just using the phone to tell it where to point. Granted, I was using the lowest power eyepiece I've got until the clouds rolled in. It's possible the Meade drive would GOTO just as well, but the AZ-GTi purchase was an easy solution which enabled me to start pointing the thing at the sky quickly. I may still fix the Meade drive, but for now these two pieces have enabled me to start looking up now instead of sitting at the bench.

Yaaay!


Edited by Vinito, 18 January 2020 - 09:12 PM.



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