Yes, I'm taking the plunge ... going 100 percent computerized. In my last post, I wrote about my new mount, the Orion Atlas EQ-G. I wrote how, because of the winter weather in the Pacific Northwest, this mount has never seen first light. And now, months later, it still hasn't. But Spring is coming, so I'm getting ready by doing something I've been wanting to do for a long time - set it up from the start so that I can control the mount from my PC using a Gamepad. To me, it just makes sense as I'm controlling my cameras, autoguiding, etc. from my laptop. It's a bit scary to drop the hand controller but, here I go ... So long, hand controller that I've never even had a chance to use...
All of this is documented elsewhere on the Internet so I'm not going to try to impress you with a huge long post with lots of fancy pictures and instruction. Instead, I'm going to hit the important points, let you know where I ran into issues, and give a few helpful photos. In each case, I will provide external links that will come in handy when you set this up yourself.
First, to use the EQMod software, you have to purchase a special cable - the EQDIR-USB cable. I purchased mine from Xagyl Communications. It's a bit pricey but well worth it. This link is for those who use the Atlas (or similar) mount. Other mounts may require a different cable: Xagyl Communications EQ-DIR.
Next, be sure to download all the software you need. Even if you already have Stellarium, I would recommend that you update it. I had to.
You'll also need to connect everything. Remove the hand controller from your mount. Using the Xagyl cable, plug the serial connector to the mount serial connector and the other end into your laptop. Plug the Gamepad into another USB port. Now if your laptop only has one or two USB ports (as mine does), you will need to also purchase a powered USB hub if you also run a separate autoguider or CCD cam or any number of other accessories.
As I mentioned above, this is just a short, handy guide to the process. If you need something more in depth or you have never used Stellarium, consult this link: Setting up an Equatorial Mount on ASCOM with EQMod, Stellarium and Cartes du Ciel.
After updating Stellarium (and setting any necessary configuration in Stellarium - your location coordinates being the most important), install the ASCOM platform. There is a bug in some versions of the ASCOM platform on Windows 10 that relates to user permissions. Be sure to install it as Administrator. If you still get the permissions error, here's a resource that helped me get past it. Note that you must be comfortable editing your Windows registry. If not, do not do this step - instead, find someone who knows something about the Windows registry.
Once ASCOM is installed, install the EQMod software. This should be pretty straightforward. There is some configuration to be done - setting the correct COM port, inputting your latitude and longitude coordinates, and more. Refer to the more detailed link above if necessary. It's important to note that your coordinates must match the coordinates you set up when installing Stellarium. If you didn't set up your location in Stellarium, do that first.
Next, install StellariumScope. You may see an error pop up right away but in most cases, this is normal. Just ignore it and proceed. This should be fairly straightforward but again, consult to the detailed link above if necessary. Set up and configure this before continuing.
At this point, if you've done everything correctly, your mount already be powered on and everything connected. Now that StellariumScope is installed, open Stellarium and look to Polaris. You should see crosshairs near Polaris that represent where your scope is pointing. When you see this, just select any star in the night sky, press Control 1 on your keyboard and you should see the mount slew. Congratulations! You did it!
The only thing remaining is to learn how to use your Gamepad to control the telescope.
Here's a link I found that was handy to learn which Gamepad buttons control which mount functions. True, it will take some practice and some nights out in the field to memorize all these, but I was able to print out and laminate some small cheat sheets from the graphics on this site.
So there you are. When I did this, a little guide like this would have saved me a lot of heartache so that's why I put it together. Let me know if it helped. If you find other neat features or things you can do with this setup, please share with the rest of us!
Clear skies ... well, everywhere but near Seattle ... (sigh) ....