Writing An ASCOM Local Server Driver

If you build an astronomy device and want to control it with some awesome PC software, then you need to write an ASCOM (AStronomy Common Object Model) driver.  There are great resources available for writing a single ASCOM driver for your DIY astronomy equipment.  Check out the video on the ASCOM website for a guide on writing a single-device driver!  But say, for instance, you have two devices (a Telescope and a Focuser) and would like to control them with one microcontroller.  Or say you want to control your telescope with Astrophotography Toolkit AND PHD2 at the same time.  Then you need to write a Driver Server!

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Guided Telescope Mount & Accessories (Tracker V3) #DIY

Astrophotography is a bit of a money pit.  I recently delved into it with my 80-200 f/2.8L and a home-built tracking mount.  It was so much fun that I decided to buy a telescope!  So my entire budget went into an 80mm APO.

The problem was that a telescope alone is useless for star pics – some quality infrastructure is needed.  This post is about my attempt to affordably build the following components:

  • High-precision Tracking Mount with an ASCOM-compliant driver
  • Guide camera and scope to help the tracking
  • Portable Power supply
  • Telescope Focusing motor with an ASCOM-compliant driver

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CNC Pancake Printer #DIY

Printing Pancakes With A Camera Dolly?

My kids are enthused by 3D printing, casually remarking about things they could ‘just print’.  Recently they asked to build a pancake printer – what a cool idea!

20181215_100232.jpg

I thought about how to build a simple batter extruder and gantry.  It didn’t take long to realize that IREnE, my new DIY camera dolly, is the perfect platform to use as a ‘theta-style‘ gantry!  So I set about adding pancake printing functionality to the camera dolly.

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Camera Timelapse Rig (IREnE) #DIY

PREAMBLE:

Note: As of August 26, 2019, the most incredible home-built camera rig award goes tomingul’s 8-Degree-Of-Freedom robot! It takes up an entire room and can be given gcode to perform some amazing camera effects.  My rig isn’t as cool, but much more mobile and simpler to build.

Camera sliders are fun tools to use for making dynamic timelapse videos, and they come with some cool features.  This is a clever little gadget that moves like a camera slider but folds much smaller.  Eggtimers are also commonly used to make a similar effect.  Some high-end gear can slide and rotate the camera at the same time for a particularly cool effect.  But how do you guild one that one that could go up to 11?

IREnE (Inverted Radial, Extension, Eggtimer) is not only named for the clever woman (nee Adler) who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes , but also the clever functions it can perform.  The ‘Inverted Radial’ is the slider’s defining feature which doesn’t seem to be possible on any consumer camera sliders.  It moves the camera in a circle around the foreground subject in a way that keeps the subject in view while the background view is constantly changing.  Here are some examples:

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MIKRO-CHRONOGRAPH (ATTiny85 Camera Intervalometer) #DIY

Camera-Mounted Intervalometer

PREAMBLE:

A friend and I set out to build a camera intervalometer for DSLR cameras.  Instead of following one of the many build guides available online, we decided to design our own – The Mikro-Chronograph.  Check out the feature list:

  • 2x AA batteries with a ridiculously long battery life
  • LED display functions in any temperature (eg. Canadian winter) and has fancy features such as scrolling text and swirling icon
  • Tiny!
  • Encoder/button combo input is very simple and intuitive
  • Very fast to setup: Initial Delay, Shutter On Time, Shot-Shot Delay, and Number of Shots
  • Automatically load the last settings each time the intervalometer is turned on (with EEPROM wear levelling algorithm, it will easily outlast a professional camera)
  • Can be extensively customized without reprogramming, including screen orientation & brightness, input styles, clock speed calibration, and memory behaviour
  • Safe to use with any DSLR, thanks to the optoisolator
  • Price Tag: less than $20 CAD

If you want to build one, just get the components listed, wire them up on a PCB board (look at the photos below for a layout guide), program the ATTiny85 with the available code, and build a case.  All of the details can be found on Google Drive.  The 3D printed case designs are on Thingiverse.

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TRACKER V2.2

Orion Nebula by td0g

PREAMBLE:

The V2.1 update produced a working mount, but it unfortunately was not very user friendly.  I made a few modifications to improve the setup and aiming time, as well as its ability to disassemble and stow in a modest-sized wood box for storage and transport.

V2.2 (codename: HoLi) is the mount’s final design, as I’m very happy with it and have moved on to building the V3.0.  See the photo of Orion’s Nebula below taken using this mount, I’ve been happy with its performance using lenses as long as 300mm.

DIY Camera Astrotracking Mount
V2.2 – Codename: HoLi

Orion Nebula by td0g

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3D Printed Solar Film Holder

3D Printed Solar Filter for Telescope

Preamble:

At the last minute, I purchased a sheet of Baader Planetarium solar film for the eclipse on Monday.  With little time to spare, the film was taped to a cardboard box and slid over my telescope.  Prayers were made that the wind wouldn’t blow the film off of the scope, and the next day I decided to build a proper holder for the expensive film – $100 CAD for an 8″ x 11″ sheet!

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Tracker V2.1

Andromeda Galaxy by td0g

Preamble:

Most DIY astro-tracking mounts can be described as either low-quality barn-door mounts (with questionable door hinges used as pivots) or high-cost and effort equatorial mounts (typically equipped with complex drive systems).  The original Tracker V2 was designed to be an attempt to combine low-cost and high-quality elements in a single mount.  The basic design could be described as a hybrid barn-door/equatorial style mount.

That said, Tracker V2 was tested using a 250mm lens on a cropped-sensor camera and did not produce sharp OR consistent images!  Further examination at the shop revealed that the 10-32 nut and threaded rod caused the arm to advance erratically.  There was no way to eliminate or even mitigate the issue, so a bit of an overhaul was in order.  Enter: Tracker V2.1!

NOTE: While the V2.1 modification corrected the drive issue and made the device useful for unguided DSO astrophotography, it suffered from usability issues which made setup and targeting very difficult.  Improvements were made for the V2.2 upgrade, which concludes this project.  I currently building a V3, which will be another screw & arm-driven equatorial.  It will have 2-axis auto-guiding among other improvements over the V2.x design (which has admittedly been a product of evolution rather than design and planning).  

Andromeda Galaxy by td0g

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Pyrography Power Supply #DIY

Woodburning, Not Money-Burning

Wood burning is a popular hobby which can become quite expensive.  A quality wood burning system consists of: 1. A pen or selection of pens and 2. A power supply (station).  I decided to invest in a series of Razertip wood burning pens simply because they were available at a local Lee Valley Tools store. They also have a 1-year unconditional warranty!  If I end up destroying a pen with a home-built supply then we will find out just how unconditional the warranty is.  The pens are available for ~$30 each, which can become a significant investment if you want more than one or two.  The stations run for $165 and up, which is the same price as six pens!  So lets ditch the station.

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