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Thread: DIY Dome automation?

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    Default DIY Dome automation?



    Anyone here knowledgeable about DIY dome automation? I have a Technical Innovations 6' dome with an electronic shutter and motorized rotation via a back/forth switch. The company offers an automation package but it is cost prohibitive and the task seems like it should be doable without specialized equipment. I figure if I can roughly track the position of the dome and compare that with the azimuth of the scope (via ASCOM perhaps?) then I should be able to get them to match up, but this is beyond my technical skill to do from scratch. I mainly use my scope for imaging, so if i can avoid the -15c weather outside that would be wonderful. Any ideas or has someone else created any open source type solutions for this?

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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    If you can get the scope AZ coordinates and if you know how to program from scratch I would do the rest with an Arduino or a small Linux machine like the RasPi. Dealing with ASCOM is a pin though because it requires Windows. You may also want to check the INDI website, it has several non-ASCOM automation solutions. Home
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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    I have written software that will take the mount's position via ASCOM and translate it to a dome slot azimuth, which it will send to the dome via ASCOM. If you or anyone else want the software, let me know; I'll make it available for free.

    The calculations involved are non-trivial, involving three-dimensional trigonometry, vector arithmetic, and knowledge of the mount's position with respect to the dome's centre. Even the big boys get it wrong: I was never able to get either EQMOD, POTH or SGP to talk to the Foster dome driver and reliably get the slot azimuth right. That's why I ended up writing my own, which turned out to be much more reliable.

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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    I have just built myself a dome and figured some sort of powering of it would be doable. After reading a couple of threads here I am pretty daunted as I have no programing skills. Any suggestions?

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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    There are pre-packaged dome automation kits, including software. I bought the Foster kit several years ago, through Exploradome. The hardware was okay, but the software turned out to be flakey and there was no tech support. That is why I am building my own. Hopefully, someone else can chime in with package recommendations.

    The hardware is relatively straightforward. It's the software that is the killer. I spent most of my career programming, so I can do it, though some of the tools I have to work with are ugly. (I'm thinking of .Net and the C language. Eww!) But I'm almost there. As soon as the weather is warm enough to work out there, I'll start assembling the hardware.

    Yes, if writing software is not your thing, you are better off buying a package. I am not sure what else is out there.

    My Exploradome kit came with a ring gear and pinion for the Foster system to drive the rotation. Any kit or home-built solution will have to have something similar, and you will need to come up with a creative way to attach it to your home-built dome. I am re-using those gears for my DIY automation system. I strongly recommend a system that uses a stepper motor for rotation, rather than a DC motor. Positioning accuracy is critical, and when you can easily do 90 dome slews while tracking one night's target, it only takes a small positioning error on each slew to add up to the scope not being able to see out of the slot! (Ask me how I know! ) A good stepper motor and drive electronics will do what you need.

    You will also need the system to be able to operate your shutter system, including sequencing their operation if you have more than one door and they need to move in a particular order. I have a design for a simple hardware sequencer that will adapt an open/close signal to sequence two doors. Let me know if that will be of any use to you.

    The software, whether purchased or home-brewed, will need to conform to ASCOM standards. All the session automation software on the market expects to talk to ASCOM devices.

    I am not trying to scare you off! I am trying to give you enough information to enable you to select a commercial automation system, or to design your own if that's the way you choose to go.
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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    Thank you, keeping my expectations to a reasonable level is probably huge. Being an advocate of KISS I suspect it will come slowly. I am unfamiliar with the implementation of a stepper motor to start with.

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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    Stepper motors are everywhere, especially in devices with moving parts like printers. Unlike a DC motor which just spins as fast as it feels like for as long as it has power and then coasts to a stop when power is removed, A stepper motor responds to pulses of electricity. A single pulse makes it move one step, typically 1/200 th of a rotation (1.8 degrees). You control the speed by controlling the frequency of the pulses. Assuming that the motor has enough torque for the job, it will not coast when pulses stop.

    Steppers have to be driven by software. To avoid making demands of the motor that exceed its torque limits, the software has to program an acceleration and deceleration period. If done properly (and the jury is still out on my implementation), the software will know *exactly* how many steps the motor has moved.

    This is the advantage of a stepper motor over a DC motor: that the software knows exactly where the dome is.
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    JBevan (03-09-2019)

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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    Once again thank you very much for the info. Like the idea. Did a little research on Stepper motors so I am at least familiar with them now.

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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    There are several commercial varieties that get the job done and integrate quite well. All depends on the type of dome etc.

    One can learn a bit about steppers and such by messing around with various low-cost electronics kits like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino type kits, a good way to learn how to program them if one wants to go that route. With lots of patience and bit of practice, one could go that route in designing a system. There is plenty of information on the net and youtube making that path a possibility, but it does take time to learn and to piece together a system. Some people enjoy the frustrations and headaches and learning while others just want something that works out of the box. A patient person I believe could build a system and could learn lots in the process but one must be very motivated!

    A simple drive system to turn a dome is not hard but to turn a dome and to match software driving a scope is a bit more daunting to take on, doable for sure, but there are some great commercial products available which make the task much easier to accomplish, especially if one wants to automate the whole task of imaging/dome operation/with weather factors considered at the computer and totally hands-off automation level.

    I imagine as IoT takes over and is growing that dome automation will end up being cheaper and more options will be coming in the near future. Seems like this field, in general, is changing at a record pace. Every day I look up stuff I am seeing new hardware, software, and controllers which are very easy to program and integrate quite well at a good price point.
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    Default Re: DIY Dome automation?

    Kathy in your case are you using a bipolar or unipolar stepper? If I grasp what I've been reading you are essentially writing the Arduino script to meet your ends (?)

 

 
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