AstroPiBox An Autonomous Autoguiding Platform


September 30, 2017
 

Here are some news about the AstroPiBox Advanced version. We have performed many tests on various equipments and components in order to achieve our goals in terms of functionalities and reliability. This includes in particular:

  • A "clean" 12V/120W power supply;
  • A fuse protection for the full system;
  • A reverse polarity protection;
  • Professional connectors for inputs and outputs;
  • 3 x 12V outputs to power a mount and peripherials;
  • A power regulator to produce a 5V / 100W power supply;
  • A powered USB2 hub to connect peripherials that need a sufficient power to work properly.

To assemble all these components, a motherboard is required. We have luanched the design and production of the AstroPiBox Advanced motherboard, which has turned into a process more complex than what we anticipated. Here is an extract of the 5th version of motherboard:

We are now finalizing the motherboard and 48 hours of test have already been conducted. The last task is to design and produce a box that will be manufactured with a 3D printer using "ASA" plastic. The box must be designed specifically to accomodate dew, which makes the process more complex.

As a conclusion, the project is progressing but not as fast as we expected initially. So the suscribers to the crowd-funding project will have to wait a few more months to get their AstroPiBox advanced, but we think it is worth it!

 

AstroPiBox is a portable platform dedicated to astrophotography. Its first objective is to provide the amateur astronomer with a reliable, easy to use and high quality autoguiding service. AstroPiBox also integrates several other software products and utilities to facilitate mobile astronomy : planetarium software with telescope control, image acquisition, astrometry resolution and light pollution simulation. It must be noted that these additional functions are still experiemntal and will evolve over time knowing that the main objective of the AstroPiBox is to deliver an autoguiding service.

Autonomous Autoguiding

AstroPiBox integrates PHD2, a well-known open source autoguiding software. PHD2 represents the reference in the arena of autoguiding solutions for the amateur astronomer. This software has been modified by ClearSkyLab in order to best fit the Raspberry Pi platform and the 7” Touchscreen. All the required libraries have been pre-installed in the AstroPiBox Linux environment so that the PHD2 software can be directly and simply launched then used. The French translation has also been greatly improved. Note that code changes made in PHD2 will be delivered back to the open source community in order to comply with the initial open source orientation of the software.

PHD2 on AstroPiBox has been tested with several different mounts and cameras, and it can be directly used with most configurations in a « plug and play » mode without having to adjust any parameter. This makes the solution very easy to use while continuing to benefit from the powerful features and algorithms which are provided by this software. It is of course always possible to adjust the numerous parameters proposed by PHD2 in order to refine the autoguiding results of a specific configuration.

AstroPiBox has been tested for autoguiding with the following equipment (either through a direct connection or through an ST4 port):

  • Mounts: HEQ5, NEQ-6, AZ-EQ6, EQ8, Vixen GP-DX Sky-Sensor, Astrophysics, Avalon M-Zero, EQ3-2/EQ5 GoTo, EQ3-2/EQ5 motors (with ST4 port), EM200, ...
  • Cameras: ZWO ASI, ATIK

It must be noted that AstroPiBox integrates the native driver of all the ZWO ASI cameras which are often used to perform autoguiding. For these cameras, it is therefore not necessary to go through the INDI Library interface even if this stays possible.

INDI Library

AstroPiBox include a complete INDI manager (INDI is equivalent to ASCOM on Windows) with a set of drivers dedicated to astronomy equipment (camera, telescope controller, focus systems, weather monitoring, etc.). For instance, selecting a camera to be used with PHD2 is performed through a simple mouse clicker in the INDI manager panel.

Planetarium, GoTo and Image Acquisition

In addition to PHD2, AstroPiBox integrates in its current version the open source software products KStars and CCDciel which can be easily launched from an intuitive GUI. Beyond its stellar map features, KStars is also equipped to drive a telescope in a GoTo mode through the INDI library installed on the Raspberry Pi.

CCDciel constitutes a simple and efficient tool to perform image acquisitions from a camera connected to the Raspberry Pi.

Astrometry Resolution

AstroPiBox also embeds the well-known astrometry resolution engine Astrometry.net which has been specifically ported on the Raspberry Pi platform along with its resolution index catalogues (no Internet connection is necessary to perform resolutions). The user just has to specify the image to be solved into the GUI as well as the sampling associated to the setup that took the image in order to obtain the result of the astrometry resolution in a matter of seconds. There is no need to specify an approximated image center to perform the image solving.

Light Pollution Simulation

AstroPiBox is delivered with an innovative tool to simulate the light pollution produced by public lighting. This greatly helps in the process of identifying the best spots to practice astronomy.

All what the user has to do is to specify a town name, its area code as well as a latitude extension for the map (in km) and AstroPiBox immediately generates a light pollution map centered on the requested town. At this point of time, only France cities can be simulated.

Other Features

In its version with a 7" screen (AstroPiBox Touchscreen), AstroPiBox lets the user easily change the screen luminosity through 5 dedicated buttons. Furthermore, a night vision is available to switch the interface display to red tones.

Proposed Packaging

It is planned to release AstroPiBox in 4 different packages which cover different use cases:

PackagingUse Case
AstroPiBox SD

Micro-SD card to be plugged into a Raspberry Pi 3

  • Use case: free integration into a user environment (only the SD card is supplied).

AstroPiBox Standard

Raspberry Pi 3 with a standard case and a power supply. Multipurpose platform to be connected to an HDMI screen or through a network in VNC mode.

  • Use case: integration within a permanent observatory. The user connects the product to his/her own environment (screen, keyboard/mouse, network, etc.).

AstroPiBox Advanced

Final product with a watertight case designed for astronomy that integrates a power management system, a USB 2 hub, a serial port and proper connectors for a usage in the field.

  • Use case: integration within a permanent observatory. The user connects the product to his/her own environment (screen, keyboard/mouse, network, etc.).

AstroPiBox TouchScreen

Standard case with an official 7" Touchscreen and a power supply.

  • Use case: portable platform for autoguiding and mount control in the field.

Each of these versions of AstroPiBox will also be proposed with specific options selected by ClearSkyLab (ZWO ASI camera, serial board, keyboard/mouse, etc.).