Automation is what allows you to sleep at night.
June 20, 2017
So far, I have a collection of scripts that I wrote that do all kinds of things like tail the log for PHD so I can see it's working, same with SGPro. I have monitors that look for errors or patterns that I want to know about and the make the mac make noise to get my attention. These are all run from my main script called "image". It starts everything up in the observatory in sequence including all the monitors that let me keep tabs on what's going on. (left monitor) Then it launches an RDP of "orange" the windows machine I remote control that controls all the cameras, focusers, filter wheel and mount. (middle monitor) I use SGPro to spec out what I want to image, for how long and how many subs to take. It controls everything and is awesome software. It autofocuses when needed, takes care of filter wheel if shooting monochrome and much more. When it's done at the end of the night, SGPro leaves a marker that my main script is waiting for which triggers it to disable all the monitors and shutdown most of the accessories including the 12vDC that powers the camera and mount. Then it runs another script that copies all the image data back to my mac that I am remote controlling this from (Red-G7) the guy with 3 monitors. Once it's done copying, it shuts off everything that is left which at this point is just the PC. At a defined time after this is all complete (10 minutes) I have a 12v box fan that comes on that helps keep the dew down and deter night owl critters from going inside since I am sleeping at this point, and the dome remains open until I get up at 6-7AM. Right now, Astro dawn is 3:23AM so I sit open and exposed with the telescope sleeping pointing down for a couple of hours if I know there is no chance of rain, and only if I know that will I go to sleep.
In the AM, before work, I get up and go outside and pull the dome back on put the QR brackets back on and close it up. It takes me less than 2 minutes to open or close and that is the only time that I really go out there other than if messing with new stuff or I need to move the dome in the middle of the night which I try to plan around doing that if possible. Tonight, I am imaging roughly in the south all night so the dome is pushed off to the north and will stay out of the way all night with the 5 targets I have selected to shoot in the roughly 5 hours of darkness tonight.
The Zenith table I designed and use allows me to push the dome off in more than 270 degrees so anywhere except over the door of course. It's great. I have a fairly large RASA so I can't usually see sky with the dome on the pod, I always push off the dome to image, always. When this isn't optimal is when I want to image in the south to start and move to the north later in the evening (late spring is good for that). To do this I need to move the dome manually to the other side after shooting in one direction and wanting to image in the other side of the sky. I could almost see both if I could push off to the west more, like 48 or 60” instead of the 36 that my table allows me. That's not an option as the back of my garage is there and I can't move that or the observatory.
The shortcoming of not having an automated dome is the last real detail and it's a major one! When I considered automating this in the past I wanted to preserve that the dome spins on the pod, something I would never need to do if when it came off was completely out of the way. My latest idea is a 6' long table to my south that ends on an elevated table that lowers the dome down at least 3 feet which makes it not block any sky. It's complicated which I hate and need to make simple and reliable. I'm also, thinking about a jib crane which is an idea from talking with a friend, similar to the cherry picker engine hoist picture in the POD forum that some guy did. In either case, I'm struggling with how to automate opening and closing the dome, it needs to be gears or direct drive of some kind since it has the weight shift and needs to move in both directions. The horizontal table can be powered by a screw drive garage door opener. The table that descends can be a dog grooming table or a hydraulic lift of some type. The dome is only 120lbs but 8' in diameter when closed it needs an 8' circle and when open it can fit in the space of a 4'x8' piece of plywood.
Changing my table to anything else at this point would need to give me complete automation, only then it might be worth doing. Complete automation of the dome and roll-off/descent would allow me to close up automatically when I'm done imaging making that liability go away. It would also allow me to automate the image early cause it's going to rain later scenario. It has to be reliable and can't jam or fail.
August 31, 2017 Update:
- Elevated table not needed if I move the dome far enough to my south, now even simplier!
Horizontal sled table will travel 9' to south not 6' as originally planned. The sled will be powered by a propelled 12V boat trailer jack with an 8" wheel. The sled will be in the shape of a 'C' with the drive wheel in the center and fixed wheels being at either end.
- 12V 36" Linear Actuator capable of lifting 100lbs easily opened the dome! This prototype test has been pending and passed with flying colors!!!! I now have a design that I believe will work!
- I have this all worked out in my head at a high level, now it's time to put it on paper and work out the details.
- Prep area, move wood shed 10' to the south
December 20, 2017
- Dome controller complete, I just need to install and calibrate the timers
- Working on a new release of my JRO software. This will integrate all new capabilities and changes into my imaging methodology.
- JRO software v4 coming soon!
February 6, 2018
- Just an observation, the linear actuators seem to exhibit a harmonic vibration when it is very cold. They have done the job every time but they are not verry happy in the cold.
- JRO software v4 in use now
- SGP 3,0 in use now
- It would have been nice if I had designed in a de-icing solution
- A quick disconnect jumper cable to charge or jump the battery. If I stop not all the way rolled off where the automatic charger connection is out of range. This will be a 12' x double 12ga cable and would be coiled and located outside in a bag near the max roll off point. In the case where I stop short of max and the automactic connection to the charger, I can use this cable plugged into a quick disconnect on the sled and leave it all night so I can ensure the battery will close the sled/dome in the morning. This is just a nice to have since I almost always roll off to the max. Only once I couldn't due to ice at the end of the center beam track. I'll likely just do this in the spring.
July 24, 2018
- Sled v2 in progress. My first sled made from doubled up 3/4" pressure treated plywood was overloaded and not rigid enough to deal with all the different torques I inflicted on it. My second version of the sled is made from doubled up 3/4 Marine grade AB plywood, also laminated with screws and gorilla glue,. will also have angle steel attached but the main difference besides the plywood is that v2 will be impregnated in fiberglass to make it more rigid. This is where I am at right now. I hope to do the sled transplant in mid-August. Other significant changes are the solar charging setup will be removed from the sled. Charging the sled battery will become tethered. I am moving to a more minimalistic approach. No more beacon light on the sled. I'm introducing another wemo for the sled that is a main, that will be the only always powered wemo that the battery has to keep going. So I will need to turn on the sled and wait a minute or 2 for the other wemos to boot.
August 7, 2018
- Sled v2 still in progress. Edge covers in fiberglass, wheel install remains
September 4, 2018
- I've decided to give up my quest to make my POD into a roll-off observatory.
I am building another 12x12 deck nearby and am moving my POD to that to become my observatory used for planetary, moon and ultimately solar imaging. The new location for my old POD has no north views so it's perfect for what I want to do. I will revert back to my successful spoke PZT.
This will allow me to build a roll-off observatory where my POD is now (the sweet spot in my yard) for deep space imaging. The new Roll-off will be a 10x12 Skyshed based roll-off that I can't wait to build hopefully to be completed before this winter. With this ultimately I will upgrade to a new mount either an Avalon or a Paramount and some new glass, I have my eye on a Takahashi fsq-106edx4.
November 5, 2018
Just 2 months later, I've built my new deck and moved my POD to it.
December 29, 2018
Less than 2 months later, I've built my new SkyShed. Not operational yet, but getting closer. I hope to be imaging in January sometime. See it in action here