Cherry Tree Observatory
Here’s an insight into my observatory setup and the main equipment it takes to get everything working efficiently.
The whole control computer system is based around the PrimaLuceLab Eagle Pro 4 system. This is a highly efficient quad core intel i5 based system, built around the Windows 10 Enterprise edition. The system has 16Gb of RAM and a 480GB SSD disk. The EAGLE4 PRO offers three USB 3.1 type A ports with transfer data up to 10 Gbps; one USB type C / Thunderbolt 3 port with data transfer rates up to 40 Gbps, as well as five USB 2.0 ports, two HDMI 2.0a ports, a Gigabit LAN port and Wireless 802.11ac.
The system allows for on/off control of 2x3A and 2x8A 12v power outlets, and with the addition of the ECCO2 (Environmental Computerized COntroller) unit, automated management of dew heaters. The ECCO unit will automatically and continuously monitor the temperature, humidity and pressure around your telescope and the temperature of your lenses by calculating the dew point (the temperature below which dew condenses). This way it will vary the heating of dew heaters connected to the dew heater ports of the EAGLE avoiding condensation on your optics. In total, 7x12V ports are available, 4x12V and 3x 0-12V (for dew heaters etc). The image below is the base screen of the Eagle Pro 4 unit.
Home Page of the Eagle Manager software provided with the Eagle Pro 4.
The software interface provides critical information from the ECCO2 unit as well as current draw on all power points. All ports are colour coded to indicate their current status.
The interface also displays your current location and altitude as determined from the in-built GPS as well as the WIFI connection mode.
Dark mode on/off can be selected on this screen, this turns of all LED’s on the actual EAGLE unit.
The ADVANCED SETTINGS button takes you onto a new screen. This screen allows variuos power-up and shut-down options to be set, i.e. automatically turning on required power ports on boot-up and shutting all power off on shut-down. The various 12V power port max current draw can be set on this screen as well as WIFI settings and ECCO calibration. In case of USB issues, a reset or reconnect can be instigated from this screen.
Advanced Tab of the Eagle Manager software. This Tab deals with ECCO calibration, Power configurations for startup and close down, as well as WIFI modes and passwords.
Right clicking on the power ports, for example, gives further information on the power variables for that peripheral. A plot of Power (W) against time is available. Four of the USB 2.0 ports can be turned on or off remotely along with the four 12V ports.
The current draw for each individual component is monitored and plotted over time.
The plot shows the current draw from my SX-VR H36 camera, the small spikes can be attributed to the download of the images to the system.
The EAGLE Pro 4 system uses the Windows 10 Enterprise edition, a 64 bit operating system. As the system uses the Windows 10 framework, it can run the majority of Windows based astrophotography software.
Software can be loaded onto the system via a WIFI or LAN connection, or by using one of the USB connections. Although there is some pre-installed software such as PhD2 guiding and cartes du ciel, I’ve chosen to install Software Bisques TheSkyX to run planetarium and imaging functions. I run a Paramount MX+ mount which natively runs TheSkyX so there is total compatibility. In addition, my Starlight Xpress cameras and peripherals are natively controlled, so his choice of software works very well.
TPoint™ software provides world-class telescope pointing analysis to help identify, quantify, and automatically correct systematic errors that exist with all telescope mounts. This allows sub-pixel accuracy in guiding.
TPoint™ is also widely used by amateur astronomers in conjunction with TheSky™ astronomy software to assist with getting optimal polar alignment, analyzing pointing calibration results, achieving precision pointing accuracy, and improving tracking accuracy on Paramount mounts using ProTrack™.
Here we see Software Bisque’s TheSkyX in operation on a previous computer system. The image was taken during an imaging run on the California Nebula.
The lower screen shows the raw images as they download and the imaging parameters, whilst the upper screen shows the guidestar download and plots of the auto-guiding performance.
The x-y plot to the right shows a slight mis-polar alignment, but with a guide period of 5 seconds, both the X and Y error are within 0.5 pixels.
Whilst in operation, the Eagle Manager Software and TheSkyX is accessed through remote access of the EAGLE unit. I use Microsoft Remote access on my Mac to access the system. Hats off to PrimaLuceLabs, they offer some very good tutorials on how to do this and how to easily overcome known issues. The WIFI is powerful and stable enough to allow Remote Access to perform from warm rooms and even the house if necessary.