My Remote Observatory
Why a remote observatory?
Mount and OTA
To automate the Observatory I had to install many other devices.
REMOTE POWER CONTROL: I opted for a Digital Loggers Web Power Switch, a quite cheap yet perfectly working solution to remotely control the power of all the devices mounted. Not available in Australia, I had to order directly from the USA. This units can also run on automated scripts, a useful feature required by automation programs like ACP Scheduler.
PC: I installed a Lenovo TS130 tower server with i3 processor, 8 GB ECC memory, 2x1TB HD in Raid running Windows 7 pro. I used a locally assembled PC at the beginning but it had the power supply failing after one year due the high usage and environmental condition in the dome. Considering the PC is always on and temperature in the dome can be quite high during the day and humid in the night is important to opt for a robust and reliable system.
CLOUD SENSOR: I use a AAG Cloud watcher to monitor the sky conditions at the site. This unit unfortunately failed to work after 2 months (both lights and humidity sensors). However the manufacturer (Lunatico Astronomia) recognized the problem as being an original defect of the unit and sent an improved replacement unit free of charge, another good example of good customer customer oriented company. I didn't have issues anymore with the unit, proving itself very reliable. The Cloud watcher, apart from monitoring the sky conditions during the imaging session, has also a safety switch that triggers the dome shutter to close in case of bad weather, even if the PC is not working, providing a last safety barrier in case of extreme events.
IPCAM: I used a FOSCAM camera but unfortunately failed after few months. I need to replace it with a better and more reliable camera.
NETWORK DEVICES: all observatory network is running on a Linksys switch and is hardwired using Cat5 ethernet cables.
Also a number of 12 Volts power suppliers are installed in a rack to power all low voltage devices in the observatory (CCD, robofocus, mount, dome etc). Each power supply is powered by a dedicate socket of the Web Power Switch so I can turn on and off every single device remotely or locally using scripts.
UPS: to protect all the electronic devices I use a Socomec ITYS 1 KVA pure sine wave online UPS. I didn't considering this device at the beginning but eventually its purchase resulted very useful to protect all electronics by surges, voltage fluctuation etc.
My PC is running Windows 7 pro 64 bits. The camera uses MaximDL, the mount TheSkyX+TPoint (I had to upgrade from TheSky6 I used due to incompatibility issues with Win7/64), the focuser Focusmax (a great freeware!). To have an efficient remote observatory the automation software is the key factor. ACP suite (ACP+Scheduler) is the automation software of my choice. Before every evening session the software automatically checks the weather, if fine it powers on the needed devices, opens the dome, cools the camera, waits for the end of astronomical twilight, opens the flip-flat, focuses on a suitable star and than decides the best objects to imagine according the list I have input until all requested images are taken, even if it could takes several days or weeks to complete. In the morning it closes the flip-flat, parks the scope, closes the dome, warms up the camera and powers off the unused devices waiting until next evening. If clouds roll in during the night the observatory is paused and the dome closed until the sky clears again. All I need to do is to check every few days all is working fine and to add new targets when the current ones are completed. All is done through a very convenient web interface. If necessary I can remotely control my PC desktop with Radmin, a powerful yet inexpensive remote desktop utility.