Saturday, 16 February 2019

What Controls The Hardware - Update

A couple of years ago, I put up a blog post about all the software that I was using at that point, to control the hardware I had at the time.  Well, I thought it was time for an update.  I've changed my mount, my camera and have picked up several other hints and tips since then, and my software has changed to keep up.
One other thing that I have recently added to my collection of hardware is a dedicated imaging PC.  The Intel NUC 7i5BNH is around 15cm square and around 4 cm tall.  This week, I spent 2 evenings putting on the operating system and all the software I need to start using it.

The PC

The new NUC carries a 7th generation Intel i5 processor which is more than enough to support the software I require.  I won't be using this for image processing, so anything more than this would probably be a bit of a waste.  The beauty of the NUC is that once you have decided what processor you want, you are then free to chose the RAM and hard drive size, and fit them accordingly.  So, I went with 8GB RAM and a 250GB SATA Solid State Drive.  The NUC also comes with an on-board wireless access card.
I've installed:
  • 64 bit Windows 10 Enterprise.
  • Bitdefender antivirus.  
  • The driver bundle was downloaded from the Intel website, and all relevant drivers were installed.  Windows 10 actually does a reasonable job of installing what it needs, but given this was a vanilla build, I wanted to use all the manufacturers drivers from the start.
  • I gave the wireless access controller a fixed IP address, and enabled RDP which allows me to remote onto the NUC from another machine on my home network.

The Astro Hardware

Everything else is fairly standard astronomy kit.
  • SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount.
  • Altair Hypercam 183c (v1) for imaging.
  • GPCAM Mono for guiding.
  • USB3 12v hub

Installing The Software

There's a requirement to install the software and drivers for all the kit in specific order.  None of the installs are particularly tricky though.  Where I can, I've put a link to the download locations I used.

Cartes du Ciel v4.0

I use this for selecting targets and slewing the telescope to them.  It saves having to rely on using the handset on the mount.  It's free and opensource software. available from here.  Once installed, there is not much to do, other than set up your location.  If you move around several observing locations, you can save all the locations in the 'Observatory Database'.  All you need is the GPS coordinates of the location.
At the end of the process, the software will be able to connect to the mount, but there are a few more things to go through first.

AltairCapture 3.7

This is imaging/capture software from Altair, designed to work with their cameras.  Although I don't actually use this software, there is some important information on the Altair downloads website regarding the drivers of the Altair cameras.  From experience, I can say that as long as their instructions are followed IN ORDER, then you shouldn't have any problems.  You don't necessarily need to configure Altair Capture, but by installing their software, all the latest drivers for all their cameras are installed.  Note, DO NOT plug any camera into the PC before installation of the software.

SharpCap Pro 3.2

I have invested in a lifetime license for SharpCap Pro, and use it as my only image capturing software.  If I buy a different camera in the future, then it supports cameras from all the main manufacturers, and is continually being developed and added to.
According to the SharpCap website download page, most users should only ever need the 32 bit version of the software.  So, that is what I have used.  I downloaded the latest version, installed it and applied my SharpCap Pro license.
As I had installed Altair Capture before hand, I was able to connect my Hypercam and GPCAM to the NUC via the powered USB3 hub, and connect SharpCap to them both.  I use SharpCap for polar alignment, via the GPCAM guide camera, and then perform the rest of the imaging with the Hypercam, which is why it was important to check I could connect to both cameras at this point.

Altair ASCOM Drivers v 1.4.10

These are the first of 3 sets of ASCOM drivers required for each piece of software to talk to hardware.  In this case, for the Altair cameras.  I downloaded these from a link the on the Altair downloads page.

.Net 3.5 for Windows

Although available for download, it is actually a feature which I enabled within windows.  After enabling this feature, the NUC needed a reboot.  It is a prerequisite for the next download and install.  Without this in place, I could not continue with the remaining installs.  A quick internet search will tell you how to enable the feature.

ASCOM Platform 6.4 SP1

This is a platform of different ASCOM drivers for controlling all sorts of hardware.  The latest platform is available from the main ASCOM downloads page.

SkyWatcher ASCOM Drivers v 6.0.6262

These drivers are the final piece to the jigsaw, allowing the computer, and the various pieces of software to talk to the SkyWatcher mount.  These are also available from the ASCOM website. under their Telescope/Mount Drivers section.

PHD2 v2.6.5

This is guiding software, used for tracking a star in the field of view of the guide scope.  It determines if the star is moving within the field of view, and then sends guiding adjustments to the mount to ensure the guide star stays in the same place.  The latest version is available from the PHD Website
Once installed, PHD2 will automatically enter a small wizard to set up some guiding parameters.  Some of these it sets up itself, but I needed to add the focal length of my guide scope, which is 206.6mm

That was it for the basic installs.  The NUC was now able to talk to the hardware, and all the software was able to communicate with what it needed to.  Each piece of the software needed a little more configuration in it's own right, but no further set-up was required.
I expect I will need to refer back to this in the future when the time comes to rebuild, the NUC, or if I invest in a new machine.  Up until that point though, I hope it helps others too.
Thanks for reading!

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