Author Topic: StellarMate  (Read 755 times)

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NoelC

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StellarMate
« on: Jun 09, 2019, 14:43:22 »
Now that Atik have released the Atikbase at £251 a shot, and having spent ages trying to get my software purchase of StellarMate working, I thought I'd give a quick write up of the progress.

StellarMate is a proprietary piece of software written for the Raspberry Pi mini computer (www.stellarmate.com.  It is written by Jasem Mutlaq in Dubai (where they see a lot more stars than here!), at present he seems to be the sole proprietor and supporter of the system.  He is extremely approachable via his chat system (see website).  The system operates under the Indi Library (www.indilib.org) a linux based operating system for astronomy kit (Instrument Neutral Distributed Interface) - the ASCOM of the Linux world.
You can buy a StellarMate unit (a Raspberry Pi already configured with the software) for £185 from Altair Astro and others.  The software on its own costs $40 direct from StellarMate.com. The Atikbase uses StellarMate as it's operating system, and comes with power outputs (unlike the StellarMate unit which comes just with the Pi).

This is my test setup:
WO 90mm attached to an HEQ5Pro mount with a Starwave dual losmandy/vixen dovetail clamp fitted.
The dovetail clamp has had a plate bolted to it, which has velcro applied to that to hold the USB2.0 hub, Raspberry Pi and a Pegasus PPB power box.  System is shown with an Atik One 6.0 attached and Atik GP camera on an OAG.
I decided upon using the PPB to protect stuff from electrical overload.  The Pi is housed in a proprietary Pi box, into which I have fitted a 12 - 5V 3A DC-DC converter (so the Pi runs of 12V). The USB Hub is powered by the same converter.  Additionally the PPB comes with an environment sensor (humidity and temperature) and will drive dew bands automatically.

Setting up the Pi was relatively simple; you buy then download the software, use a freeware disk imaging software (balena Etcher) to write a mini SD card image, plug the SD card into the Pi and power it up!.  StellarMate comes with a free planetarium programme (KStars) which integrates with the bits and pieces (you can use Stellarium, but I've not tried as I don't use Stellarium in Windows much).  You fire up KStars, click the observatory icon to initiate EKOS (the driver control panel) and load and connect your gear - hopefully it then all runs.  Connectivity can be achieve via the built in hotspot, online (if plugged in) or via a hub (if nearby).  You can of course run it direct, but would need to plug a screen into it.  There is a phone app to run it, but I couldn't find my way around the screen

My experience thus far is that the system works quite well.  It is fairly stable, but has a lot of foibles.  There are multiple ways of doing everything, which means if one way doesn't work, you can usually find another way to get stuff connected or working properly.  However:-
I had help from Jasem on two occasions (fairly extensive help), he wrote a driver for my focuser (thank you very much!) and sorted out the system updates (which I had switched off due to forum notes about problems with updates).  He logged onto my system via TeamViewer from Dubai and re-configured it, rebooting it twice.  It is now quite stable.
First Light
Enough messing around with the software; will it work?  I dragged the test setup out onto my patio last night (before the high level cloud got too much) and tried to set it all up.
First: don't forget to set the time!
Next: get focus - took ages as the Atik Driver went bananas and started spinning the filter wheel.  This could be a problem with Indi, but I feel inclined to lay the blame squarely on Atik because they have screwed up the drivers for my camera before in Windows.
Swapped cameras to an ZWO ASI 120MMCS uncooled:-

This is the focus screen post focus on 2 second exposures; you can see the V curve forming nicely although it wasn't able to settle within the limit of 0.5% variation I had set it.  Also you'd normally be un-binned and sum 10 frames not the 1 I had set here.
PHD came up quite nicely and after a bit of jiggling around with the parameters it started to work and look as I would expect it.  Since I had lost the Atik I didn't get to use it in anger.
I attempted to polar align using the on board plate solver, unsuccessfully. I suspect that the lack of sensitivity, cloud and dew was by now taking it's toll.  But the plate solver came up with a couple of solutions before failing to solve - time for bed.

Interim conclusions:
For a $40 solution, this is fantastic.  Some of the features of KStars seem well ahead of any of the low end solutions I have tried.  The filter wheel setup in the Atik control panel is well ahead of ArtemisCapture (you can set filters, and give focus offsets, set autofocus interval).  The target modeling is really good (gives altitude and expected illumination per target) the ability to programme multiple targets, with autofocus, filter and offsets all from the standard panel is really useful.  The pointing model (if I get it to work) is also really good.  The hotspot connectivity for the device (I was running it from my laptop indoors) was almost flawless (disconnected once - just reconnect and carry on).  And the Support is pretty sensational!  A point worth noting is that according to my PPB power meter, the whole system was never using more than a 200mA (without dew bands or cooling applied).

KStars Observation Planner
Against this; the connectivity issues with some devices is not good; Pegasus PPB being the worst, however once connected it seems quite stable.  The solver took forever to run (possibly due to the data it was given).  Coming from Windows, the system is non-intuitive.  The use of micro SD cards is less than optimal. The underlying concern has to be does the Pi have the power to run it all?  Although I have had unexplained crashes; I have to say that it seems to have held up really well; so I’m optimistic.  More to follow.
Synta mount, a bunch of telescopes and a shed (on wheels).

Hugh

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #1 on: Jun 09, 2019, 22:16:32 »
Hi Noel

Good use of the Forum in circulating information which I read as best I could.

However, to be honest I struggled after  ~ "Now that Atik have released...etc"!

However, on behalf of the untechy in the society ~ don't stop the good work!

Best

Hugh :lol:

Carole

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #2 on: Jun 09, 2019, 23:11:42 »
I am sure some-one will find this very useful Noel, and it is good of you to write this up. 

Far too techy for me I am afraid, I like to keep things as simple as possible, too much complicated stuff to set up, and too many things that could go wrong.

Carole

JohnH

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #3 on: Jul 10, 2019, 15:47:55 »
Hi Noel,

It was interesting to read a PC user's perspective. I have been using Stellaramte (the OS downloaded and slotted into a Raspberry Pi) for my very basic attempts at imaging. I thought that it might be worthwhile to give a view from an Apple computer user's perspective (however inexperienced as an imager).

For practical reasons I have only been using the imaging part although in tests it works to point my LX90. (I haven't delved into the dark art of guiding yet).

I have used both a battery system and a mains adaptor, both of which successfully provide sufficient power to run the computer and a ZWO1600 and filter wheel, I have added a powered USB hub. At the moment my preferred setup is to use KStars/Ekos on my MacBook to remotely run the software on the Stellarmate. In this way the images are stored on the computer rather than on the Raspberry Pi which means the the plate solving is quicker and generally more successful when I remember to provide the correct optical information. As an alternative Stellarmate functions adequately using VNC with my browser but reaction to instructions is slower and I store the images on a USB memory stick for ease of transfer.

For polar alignment of my Staradventurer Mini I use PHD2 which is preinstalled and works well.

Recently there was a major update to the Stellarmate app on my iPad. This was fairly disastrous to start with and pretty much broke the whole set up. New versions of both Stellarmate and the app seems to have cured this.

Interestingly, ZWO now have a similar system which is dedicated to their products.

Regards,

JohnH

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #4 on: Jul 10, 2019, 16:18:06 »
I've ordered a Pi4 (never had one before!) to give this a go. I plan to use either a StellarMate type config or Indigogo where all the devices are effectively forwarded to a PC running your usual (INDIGO supporting) software e.g. APT 3.7, PHD, Cartes du Ciel that I normally use. Not sure if theres support in Voyager and N.I.N.A. (which I prefer) but hey ho. Voyager is more a long term thing if I motorise my observatory roof. Not found a compelling reason to do so yet.
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Apophis

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #5 on: Jul 10, 2019, 19:19:10 »
Really happy with my Eagle3 , especially the ECCO system of automating Dew Heater control ,  no hiccups yet only human errors where i slip up like drop and lose the usb card that the whole imaging session was on when removing , must have bounced onto grass, learned my lesson don't move the files now just copy them till transferred onto laptop,
Roger

NoelC

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #6 on: Jul 11, 2019, 11:15:44 »
John; thanks for the info; very good! does operating it remotely work OK?  Only I get some connection drop outs using VNC.  If I get it to image, I plan to use a usb stick for images so that it will all work in isolation (set and forget).
Duncan; way to go! where did you get your pi4 from?  orders were backed up over here when I looked.  The Pi3 does work, but occasionally it seems to stop responding temporarily (presumably due to lack of power or memory), and backing up the system micro SD is a pain.  Please do a write up when you get it set up.
Roger; The Eagle3 is an excellent system, if I had a spare grand or two I'd buy one - suspect Windows 10 Enterprise is a far more stable platform.  But for a couple of hundred this system seems to work, and given my propensity for blowing things up, fits my approach slightly better.

I haven't used the system in anger yet (due to the weather).  Jasem overcame the Atik camera driver issue (just needed to purge the settings and it all worked OK). Connectivity not too bad; have had to reboot a few times.  Got the polar alignment routine working - it's really quite good, but like all of it there are few instructions, you just have to keep trying stuff (click on the star you want to centre).  I suspect the interfaces are all based on other bits of software that I've not yet used.
Not yet had PHD2 running at the same time as imaging.  Platesolving (using Pi3B) seems to take around 12 seconds.  The PPB has automated dew heater control built in and a bunch of other features (different topic I suspect).
Synta mount, a bunch of telescopes and a shed (on wheels).

Apophis

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #7 on: Jul 11, 2019, 13:37:54 »
Roger; The Eagle3 is an excellent system, if I had a spare grand or two I'd buy one - suspect Windows 10 Enterprise is a far more stable platform.  But for a couple of hundred this system seems to work, and given my propensity for blowing things up, fits my approach slightly better.


I will tell you something very interesting about the Eagle3 i brought at the next meeting , don't want it on the web.
Roger

JohnH

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #8 on: Jul 11, 2019, 15:37:06 »
Hi,

I suggest holding back on the Pi4 for a while. Two reasons;

a) There is presently a design fault on the USB C connector (power) which means that it does not recognise all power sources. I believe that this will be fixed fairly soon.
b) At the moment Stellarmate is awaiting an update to work with the Pi4.

I have been able to use Stellarmate remotely in tests (unfortunately, I have not been able use it real world since the major update). I positioned the Pi within (more or less) line of sight from my BT Homehub to get the best signal (I use Stellarmate connected to my home WiFi). I have the most recent iteration of Pi 3 which has improved WiFi.

Regards all,

JohnH

JohnH

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #9 on: Jul 11, 2019, 17:08:19 »


This is (I hope, it will not give me a preview) a screenshot of Ekos being used remotely for a test image. I have recorded a series 10 images.

JohnH
 (sorry, doesn't look as if I have managed to attach the image correctly)
« Last Edit: Jul 11, 2019, 17:20:06 by JohnH »

NoelC

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #10 on: Jul 16, 2019, 11:22:19 »
John
Very interesting.  How far can you get from the hub before it loses connection, and are there any gotchas with operating it remotely (does it fall over if the link goes down during download)?
I think this is the image you were trying to put up:-


(It's an Imgur thing using frames, I used the 'inspect element' tool in Firefox development tools to see where the source of the image was).
Noel
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JohnH

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #11 on: Aug 27, 2019, 13:14:22 »
Hi Noel,

Sorry for the delay, I have been dashing around.

I have a very small back garden so I don't get much further than about 30 feet which does not cause problems BUT if I am using a battery to power the unit it is very sensitive to power levels.

The biggest gotcha is response time from your input on the computer.

Another alternative to consider now is the Asiair from ZWO. It is also a Raspberry Pi derivative. I was very lucky and got one for my recent birthday. It is ZWO camera specific but runs via an App on a tablet or phone, not a computer. I have not tried it with a motorised mount, only on my Star Adventurer but so far I can report (in no particular order):

1) It is much more responsive than Stellarmate.
2) Plate Solving has never taken more than about 4 seconds (except when I discovered that it was pointing at a tree).
3) Polar alignment works even without a powered mount.
4) Focus assistance works
5) Images are recorded on the microSIM - saves transmission time but storage is limited. Downloading images to my laptop is very easy.
6) The WiFi ONLY works on its own network, it does not link to the internet.
7) The software is designed to continue happily if the laptop/phone drop out and then pick up if you come back.
8) The limiting factor in image quality is the idiot operating it - I followed the advice and set the system to Bin 4 and high gain for focus and PA. I reset the Bin to 1 but forgot to reset gain which meant that my images wiped out at exposure over 30 seconds.
9) So far, I have not been able to get it working in association with SkySafari which is really necessary to make proper use of Plate Solving.
10) Camera controls worked perfectly.
11) I have not used guiding but it is based on PHD.

So it seems a good option if you are using ZWO cameras.

John(H)

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #12 on: Aug 27, 2019, 19:42:29 »
Well I got my Raspberry Pi 4 with 4Gb. I have tried Noobs. My target is really to provide an imaging capability for my StarAdventurer (SA) mount with no laptop involved. The SA can guide in RA and I have used that before with great success.

I loaded IndigoSky server but its not really what I want as you still need a laptop. You can connect and control using a web browser but its clunky, but you really need to connect the usual software, APT, PHD2, Cartes du Ciel etc. to us it. It doesn't capitalise on the RPi4 capabilities and power. Also it doesn't seem to recognise my QHY5L-II guide camera which is a bit of a fail, though the Canon 1100D connected OK as did the GPS dongle.

I'm downloading Astroberry at the moment (4 hours on my rural broadband) and will let you know how that goes.
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The Thing

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Re: StellarMate
« Reply #13 on: Aug 27, 2019, 19:49:12 »
Just read Astroberry doesn't work on a rPi4. I'll try it anyway...
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