The fun of Remote Imaging

Basically if you’re remote you’ll have to drive to fix something when it breaks.  In this case you’re gonna need robust everything.  This includes internet equipment, routers and network switches to your choice of scope, camera and focuser, etc.  Even if you have an on site person the more robust the equipment the better.

If you’ve dabbled doing remote imaging you probably already have a digital loggers web switch (or something like it) to control power remotely.  A weather station like AAG or a boltwood is a must.  A couple tcp/ip cams to see what is going on (switched IR illumination is a bonus).  A built in microphone is really nice that way you can tell (hear) when something is going south whether it be dome not wanting to rotate or a computer fan acting up, etc.  An Allsky camera is kinda a plus as well.  You already have net in the dome so you might want to consider a phone.  The phone makes it real easy when the maintenance person shows up and they will be showing up at some point.

Make sure you know the wind rating for the dome or roof.   It really sucks to have to call someone and ask em if they can please retrieve the shutter or worse, trust me on this one.

Also a bright flood light is required for those what the heck is that moments.  Don’t make it red, you will change it the first time you really need to see something (this is over the IP cams of course).

Besides a UPS of at least 1500 watts (and you should have the UPS plugged into a Zero surge unit also) a back up generator can be a life saver if you can put it on your property.  Before we got a back up generator the domes were on their own UPS so they had plenty of power to close if necessary.  Its best to have a heartbeat indicator built into the dome controller so if the computer fails for any reason the dome will close no matter what (9 out of 10 times).

Far as equipment goes most high end mounts, cameras, FW’s and focusers are fine.  The Software Bisque Paramounts are great because of the homing feature.   Stuff happens and its very nice to just cycle power, home and be on your way.

A lot is said about thru the mount cables, if you’re remote think hard about not doing this.  Consider running everything externally, that way there is no gotcha with flips or guiding a couple months down the road.  Many run thru the mount but its a pain to go on site for an issue that needs everything pulled off the mount because a cable gave it up or shifted a inch, much easier on the outside of the mount, something to think about.  Remember this observatory will be in use every clear night, right?

The most unreliable piece of equipment is a USB anything.  What ever you use (check the temp rating if its cold where you are) make sure you have at least 1 spare at all times (this includes a MKS5000 board if using a Paramount).  If possible run everything to its own USB port, each hub introduces a possible problem. Not so bad if you set up each night but give a hub a few months of continuous use and it will let you down.

Do you have any electrical storms in your area? If so plan accordingly, they can bite and bite hard if not ready for em.   When the lightning does hit your USB chips will be the first to go, could be a hub, MKS5000, computer MB USB, etc.  No matter how much surge protection you have the USB cables build up a static charge and bang, no connection.  Be ready for that.

The first few months trust is hard to come by and you’ll find yourself watching the shutter or roof close on those nights the moon rises kinda early.

Then comes the night when you go for the all nighter, you’ll be up to see that dawn flats got off on the right foot for a while.

Use common sense, watch the weather, don’t try and squeeze in a few subs before a storm may pass through or with windy conditions possible.

There is a ton more stuff (comp not sleeping, setting bios for booting on power up, dreaded updates, rodents, do you need a static IP or will dynamic work, etc).   A remote dome/roll off is a continuous running of Murphy’s law.  Its a blast for sure but what can go wrong usually will.