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Old 12-10-2020, 09:55 AM
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Ryderscope (Rodney)
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Automating my Observatory

I figured that it was about time to document my experience and results with automating my observatory, so here we go. This might be a longish post but I will try and keep it in check

Photos of the observatory construction can be found on my FlickR account here. Click on the Glanmire Observatory album for photos of the construction and automation.

I have posted three videos on YouTube as well. Links follow:
Video 1
Video 2
Video 3

My observatory is located on my property (1 acre) about 15 minutes drive east of Bathurst in Bortle 3 skies. I specifically moved there with a view to building an observatory. The broad options were; classic dome, roll off roof; roll off shed. I went for a roll off shed to keep things simple and keep costs down. Also, my planning assumption was that a manual operation was fine so I didn't need/want to automate the operation. **** Lesson learnt - be very careful in making these assumptions

After five years of operation and by then having automated image capture, focusing, meridian flips etc. etc. I started to fully realise the benefits of automating the observatory. There were two main objectives to be realised; to save me getting out of bed early in the morning to close the obs and, more importantly, to automate the closing should an unexpected weather event (i.e. rain) occur.

The main components of the automation of the observatory include:
* Merlin 230T panel lift garage door opener
* Aurora Eurotech weather sensor
* Skyroof Controller (Interactive Astronomy US)
* IP 9858DX Power Switch

My image acquisition software is SGP Pro.

I purchased the Merlin 230T panel lift garage door opener second hand off eBay for $150. The other products I purchased directly from the suppliers. The Skyroof Controller works very well. It comes with the hardware controller, cables for connecting to the Merlin 230T, cables and magnetic switched to detect opening/closing and the requisite software.

The observatory has 240v power connected and I have run a Cat 6 LAN cable to the obs as well. Data captured during the imaging session is downloaded to a 4TB server in the house. The next day I will review the data captured, bin any crappy subs and copy the remaining data set to another 4TB server which is located in my office in the shed (where else ).

With the above system in place I can now schedule the start and finish of imaging sessions which includes opening and closing the observatory. If a rain event occurs or an extended cloudy period, the observatory will close automatically.

I have included a link here to a presentation given to a recent meeting of the ASNSW Astro Imaging group.

So there you have it. Feel free to fire away with any questions that you may have.

Clear skies,
Rodney
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Old 12-10-2020, 11:06 AM
garymck (Gary)
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Rodney,
thanks for the pictures and videos - I now have a good idea of how everything fits together. How long is the throw of the Merlin unit? Most I've looked ate are 2.2m .
cheers
Gary
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Old 12-10-2020, 12:23 PM
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Ryderscope (Rodney)
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Rodney,
thanks for the pictures and videos - I now have a good idea of how everything fits together. How long is the throw of the Merlin unit? Most I've looked ate are 2.2m .
cheers
Gary
I was lucky that one I picked up had a one metre extension on it. As it turns out it was just the right length for my installation.
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Old 12-10-2020, 08:58 PM
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strongmanmike (Michael)
Woohoo it's clear

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Very cool Rodney, sitting inside my manual Sirius observatory...I enjoyed watching that, an observatory inside an observatory.. very neat solution, looks like a great approach

Mike
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Old 12-10-2020, 09:27 PM
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Ryderscope (Rodney)
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Very cool Rodney, sitting inside my manual Sirius observatory...I enjoyed watching that, an observatory inside an observatory.. very neat solution, looks like a great approach

Mike
Very good I'm imaging tonight as we speak as well. Nice clear conditions. Guiding is ticking along ok (not brilliant but ok).

Clear skies,
Rodney
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Old 12-10-2020, 10:01 PM
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DavidTrap (David)
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Whole setup looks very tidy.

Sky roof controller looks good.

Have you considered adding anything in terms of redundancy for roof closure? I’ve got a Hydreon Optical Rain Sensor mounted inside the observatory - it would only be hit by rain if the roof had failed to close (because of a computer failure). Should be able to get it to trigger the garage door controller to close the roof.
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Old 12-10-2020, 10:07 PM
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Ryderscope (Rodney)
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Originally Posted by DavidTrap View Post
Whole setup looks very tidy.

Sky roof controller looks good.

Have you considered adding anything in terms of redundancy for roof closure? Iíve got a Hydreon Optical Rain Sensor mounted inside the observatory - it would only be hit by rain if the roof had failed to close (because of a computer failure). Should be able to get it to trigger the garage door controller to close the roof.
Hmmm, clever. Definitely worth a look. It is true that the more complicated we make our systems the more likely they are to fail. Thanks for the suggestion.

Rodney
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Old 12-10-2020, 10:15 PM
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DavidTrap (David)
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The observatory I help run is 150km up the road. The roof control system is fairly robust but I don’t mind adding redundancy.

We have a staircase timer on the roof control motor. If it doesn’t receive a signal from the software every 60 seconds, the timer will expire and the roof will automatically close. The optical rain sensor would break that circuit (by opening a normally closed relay) and close the roof in the event of say bad data coming from the weather sensor and the software not knowing it was raining.

DT
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Old 12-10-2020, 10:17 PM
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DavidTrap (David)
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Some really nice stuff on your Flickr account BTW!

DT
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Old 12-10-2020, 10:20 PM
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Some really nice stuff on your Flickr account BTW!

DT
Many thanks, much appreciated.

RW
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Old 12-10-2020, 11:12 PM
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strongmanmike (Michael)
Woohoo it's clear

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Very good I'm imaging tonight as we speak as well. Nice clear conditions. Guiding is ticking along ok (not brilliant but ok).

Clear skies,
Rodney
Nice to hear ...this end, the raw autoguiding of the trusty'ol AP1600 (without PEC, AO or ProTrack etc) is monotonously keeping the guide star within +/- 0.2" of the centroid

Mike
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Old 13-10-2020, 05:07 AM
appiice (Ed)
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Great Design

Hello Rodney

That is a great design and for a computer guy well built 8-)!!

Did I miss how do you hold it down in strong winds?

I just bought one of those little Ocean Controls rain sensors, I let you know when it is here - you might be interested, I too went to do some imaging last night but the gremlins stopped the electrons to the shutter motor 8-(((

Best regards

Ed
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Old 13-10-2020, 07:02 AM
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Hello Rodney

That is a great design and for a computer guy well built 8-)!!

Did I miss how do you hold it down in strong winds?

I just bought one of those little Ocean Controls rain sensors, I let you know when it is here - you might be interested, I too went to do some imaging last night but the gremlins stopped the electrons to the shutter motor 8-(((

Best regards

Ed
Hi Ed, I did work on the design of the observatory but the construction was left to a builder colleague who is also an amateur astronomer. For wind management, there is an interlocking bar on the side of the moving shed that engages when the shed is closed. One piece of work that I must do is to replicate this for when the observatory is open. When I was operating things manually I would simply strap down the shed during the imaging session. Obviously I canít do that now so I need to address this.

That is good that you are picking up one of the rain sensors, I will definitely follow what you are doing.

CS
Rodney
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Old 13-10-2020, 09:32 AM
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Hi Rodney.



That's a neat observatory build, I like your roll off walls.
+1 on the hydreon rain sensor, can't really go wrong with one of them. I integrated one with my roof motor, so if you want some input on that, let me know.


Josh
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Old 13-10-2020, 10:22 AM
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multiweb (Marc)
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That's a great build Rodney. How did you anchor the sliding part to the concrete rails? Also doesn't the Merlin garage door system have a limits settings built-in as well?
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Old 13-10-2020, 08:23 PM
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Hi Rodney.

That's a neat observatory build, I like your roll off walls.
+1 on the hydreon rain sensor, can't really go wrong with one of them. I integrated one with my roof motor, so if you want some input on that, let me know.

Josh
Thanks Josh, I will look at how I can integrate the unit with the Sky Roof Controller. It has a relay output to operate the GD motor via a simple closed contact so shouldn't be too hard.
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Old 13-10-2020, 08:24 PM
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Ryderscope (Rodney)
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That's a great build Rodney. How did you anchor the sliding part to the concrete rails? Also doesn't the Merlin garage door system have a limits settings built-in as well?
Thanks Marc. Yes, the open/close limits are able to be set on the motor control unit quite easily. I preset these to make sure that the roll off shed finishes up in the correct open/close position.
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Old 15-10-2020, 10:49 PM
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Thanks Josh, I will look at how I can integrate the unit with the Sky Roof Controller. It has a relay output to operate the GD motor via a simple closed contact so shouldn't be too hard.

Hi Rodney.

I also use the sky roof controller with a gate open or motor, the sky roof firmware was modified a little by Wes, to acomodate my needs. You're welcome to give me a call if you want to talk about it.


Josh
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Old 19-10-2020, 07:45 PM
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Ryderscope (Rodney)
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Hi Rodney.

I also use the sky roof controller with a gate open or motor, the sky roof firmware was modified a little by Wes, to acomodate my needs. You're welcome to give me a call if you want to talk about it.


Josh
Ah, that is good to know Josh that you are also using the Sky Roof Controller. Always good to be able to compare notes. Wes from Interactive Astronomy has been very helpful for me as well. He provided a patched version of the software to enable it to read the data file from the Aurora weather sensor which now works very well. I will take you up on your offer for a chat soon as it will be good to see how the integration with the rain sensor works.

CS,
Rodney
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