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Help Build an Observatory Control System

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#1 ClownFish

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 05:26 PM

I have been an avid KStars/EKOS/INDI user for years and it worked very well at controlling all aspects of my portable imaging setup.

I ran it from a small Linux NanoPC T4 and it was free and updated regularly.

 

But now I am retired and have my own observatory - and my equipment has grown as well.

While I still will use my Mac to process my images (Pixinsight and Photoshop), I am considering moving the observatory over to Windows.

Costs are not a real issue - I just want reliability and consistent results.  My time is more valuable as I get older.

 

Please offer your suggestions if you were starting from scratch and needed a system to seamlessly control this gear:

Nexdome observatory

iOptron CEM120 EC2

C11 Edge HD

ASI 1600MM pro with EFW

ASI 462MC

Lodestar X2 guidecam

Moonlight motorized Focusers

AAG Cloudwatcher

 

Thanks!

 

 



#2 gregj888

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 06:00 PM

The NanoPC T4 is basically a Raspberry Pi.  If the expansion in interface is the same,  it would make a good basic controller, depending on what that means to you. 

 

I'll start with the physical plant- The roof, shutters or ROR and rotation may be easier to do with an Arduino, that's already don and you can google.  There are several Pi based systems too, but haven't seen one (including mine) that is fully deployed. 

 

your NanoPC T4 can run and INDI or ALPACA server and talk to the Arduino or do that control its self.  I plan to use INDI with ALPACA as a fall back.  It can also do weather, sky monitor, Stratum-1 GPS clock (if needed), control power to everything and do safety monitoring including a web cam for monitoring and security.  Low power so won't break the bank and can upload to where ever you want.

 

In my case, I also have an I3 NUC to do the image capture and probably to link to the scope.  That means it can also run the Plate solver and guide camera.  I don't plan to store the data in the observatory but can, since I tend to be interested in high cadence work so will have a storage array (NAS) someplace on the network.

 

If I need more I'll add what's needed.  I do some speckle (1000 frames at ~50ms) then process.  I have a couple of NVIDIA Jetsons that may process the data stream if I get ambitious, but we'll see (think Raspberry Pi with a GPU math co processor).

 

I am not planning to use Windows in the observatory but probably will to do the data reduction.  That is an open question so read as intent. 



#3 EFT

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 11:41 PM

Long term reliability with a PC in the observatory will be best achieved with a fanless system.  Keep in mind that a low powered system (in both processing power and power usage) will be sufficient to run everything in the observatory.  A Celeron or Pentium based PC will run all your capture and control programs just fine.  Install an SSD that you can save files to immediate and then transfer them (over a network of other means) to your processing machine.  This works well with a remote system that I work with.  There the internet communications are terrible, so the system images all night and then files are uploaded the next day.  The nice thing about a PC is that it will run all of the astronomy programs out there that are written for Windows.


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#4 Der_Pit

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 07:26 AM

Just curious: Why do you think you'd have to move to Windows to control an observatory?  INDI/EKOS does have drivers for all that gear.....



#5 ClownFish

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 08:30 AM

Just curious: Why do you think you'd have to move to Windows to control an observatory?  INDI/EKOS does have drivers for all that gear.....

I was having trouble recently that I attributed to INDI, but now I think it may be the NanoPC, not the software.

The NanoPC refuses to see my RS232 USB adapter, even though the drivers are built into Ubuntu, and its USB3 port has never worked with my ASI cameras.  I have seen other issues that have popped up recently - but maybe I just need to do a clean install of Ubuntu and KStars before I give up on the platform.   Yes, KStars does everything I need.



#6 ClownFish

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 08:39 AM

Long term reliability with a PC in the observatory will be best achieved with a fanless system.  Keep in mind that a low powered system (in both processing power and power usage) will be sufficient to run everything in the observatory.  A Celeron or Pentium based PC will run all your capture and control programs just fine.  Install an SSD that you can save files to immediate and then transfer them (over a network of other means) to your processing machine.  This works well with a remote system that I work with.  There the internet communications are terrible, so the system images all night and then files are uploaded the next day.  The nice thing about a PC is that it will run all of the astronomy programs out there that are written for Windows.

Thanks Ed.  I have a 500GB SSD on my NanoPC and that aspect has been wonderful, just has you suggest.  I download the images later to my Mac desktop for processing with Pixinsight.  KStars is the same as SGP Pro, so I'm not missing anything, It's just that lately I have been having some issues with hardware connectivity and I was not sure if it was INDI having trouble or the NanoPC.  I now think it was the NanoPC that is causing the trouble.  I need to test that out first with a different PC and fresh install of Ubuntu to see if that solves my issues.  I really like INDI and KStars so if I can stick with it and solve the issues I have connecting to both my RS232 USB cable and my new ASI462 MC then I can ge back to business,  



#7 Der_Pit

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 09:27 AM

I was having trouble recently that I attributed to INDI, but now I think it may be the NanoPC, not the software.

The NanoPC refuses to see my RS232 USB adapter, even though the drivers are built into Ubuntu, and its USB3 port has never worked with my ASI cameras.  I have seen other issues that have popped up recently - but maybe I just need to do a clean install of Ubuntu and KStars before I give up on the platform.   Yes, KStars does everything I need.

If Linux doesn't see an RS232 adapter, that really points to a hardware issue.  And TBH I'm quite certain that re-installation of the OS probably won't help.  So do have a look at a replacement for the NanoPC.  As Ed mentions, something fanless is definitely a good idea (as is SSD).  You don't need that much computing power for data acquisition.....


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#8 ClownFish

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 09:53 AM

So do have a look at a replacement for the NanoPC.  As Ed mentions, something fanless is definitely a good idea (as is SSD).  You don't need that much computing power for data acquisition.....

 

Suggestions?

Something that works well with Ubuntu Mate perhaps?



#9 Der_Pit

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 10:22 AM



Suggestions?

Something that works well with Ubuntu Mate perhaps?

Not really.  There's a (longish) thread somewhere here (New Champion Processor...) with lots of info.

 

I myself use an ASUS PN40, with a 2-core Celeron processor.  It has the advantage that it does run flawlessly on 12V, and has a separate USB-2 bus (there were reports about some USB-2 cameras that don't like too much running on USB-3).  But that was based on possible portable use.  For a fixed installation I'd probably get something from Shuttle, having good experience with their reliability at work(*).  Not exactly cheap though.

But they often have real serial ports wink.gif

 

(*) We run (oldish) Debian on there, so *buntu should be fine.



#10 nebulasaurus

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 12:11 AM

Suggestions?

Something that works well with Ubuntu Mate perhaps?

Take a look at OnLogic.  Not cheap, but they do have a good range of industrial fanless systems.

 

J.



#11 starman345

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 01:15 PM

 

The NanoPC refuses to see my RS232 USB adapter, even though the drivers are built into Ubuntu, and its USB3 port has never worked with my ASI cameras. 

I'll guess you are using FriendlyElec builds? My NanoPC-T4 never worked well with the Friendlyelec operating systems, USB3 and my ASi 294 didn't work well at all.  they still use the 4.xxx kernels. Once I switched to Armbian about a year ago with the 5.xxx kernels the USB 3 port works fine with my ASI cameras.  If you have a spare sd card give it a try. You can run just from the SD card or use armbian config to write the boot files to the EMMC and rootfs (program files) to your SSD.  I run mine in the latter configuration, it is stable and quite fast.


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#12 gregj888

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 05:05 PM

My Atom based mini has a built in WiFi/BT chip but it's on the SD buss.  When I first got it, linux didn't have Drivers but along the way a newer release does.  May be part of the issue.

 

The mini I have is more or less a "table" where the NUC is more or less a laptop as far as peripherals are concerned.  It may also be your RS-232 converter, check the chip and make sure it is supported, you may need a driver there too.



#13 ClownFish

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 06:03 PM

I'll guess you are using FriendlyElec builds? My NanoPC-T4 never worked well with the Friendlyelec operating systems, USB3 and my ASi 294 didn't work well at all.  they still use the 4.xxx kernels. Once I switched to Armbian about a year ago with the 5.xxx kernels the USB 3 port works fine with my ASI cameras.  If you have a spare sd card give it a try. You can run just from the SD card or use armbian config to write the boot files to the EMMC and rootfs (program files) to your SSD.  I run mine in the latter configuration, it is stable and quite fast.

That's great news!  I think I'll give it a try!

I see they have Armbian Focal and Armbian Buster.  I have no idea which now would be best for KStars/EKOS and INDI.

 

CF



#14 starman345

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 07:50 PM

I use Armbian focal from here:  

https://www.armbian.com/nanopc-t4/




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