This page goes through the step-by-step process to make an EQ6 semi-robotic using EQMOD, PHD2, and Astro Tortilla on Windows 10. I also have pages on this site for making a simple flip-top observatory and cheap EQ6 pier. If you spot any mistakes, have some suggestions or comment, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line on my contact page.
I bought a cheap gaming PC through Amazon (≅£200) and installed Windows 10 Pro, although this still had 8Gb of memory and a Dual core running at 4.1GHz! If I’m honest I would have bought a cheaper machine and gone down the Linux route (I’m a fan of Ubuntu) but Windows 10 is a good OS and has more astronomy apps which work then any other OS, so its a no-brainer. Plus EQMOD only works on Windows, as does Backyard EOS etc.
A note on drivers
It was a bit of a challenge to install some of the drivers for my older hardware on Windows 10, for the USB cable and an old Phillips Toucam Pro. If you cannot install drivers on Windows 10 you need to Restart windows (hold down the shift key when you click on restart), then on restart select “Troubleshoot” – “Advanced Options” – “Startup Settings” – “Restart” finally select option 7 “Disable driver signature enforcement”. A quick Google search found this page which seems to go through this process.
Download and install EQMOD
You can download the latest version of EQMOD from here. I’m running v1.28s. Your next step is to connect the PC and mount.
I’m discussing option 3 from this PDF on the EQMOD site. To use this connect your USB lead to the hand controller and in the utilities menu select “PC Direct Mode”. You don’t need any extra hardware, except a gamepad, see below.
Controlling the mount
At first I thought you can control the mount with the hand-controller, or from the PC, unfortunately this is impractical (as you are in PC direct mode the controller no longer works), and aligning the scope whilst simultaneously tapping keys on the PC keyboard is just a major pain the the ar*e! The only option was to use a gamepad, which I resisted for a while, but now cannot see why. You can buy a cheap gamepad like the CSL wireless USB gamepad for PC for about £15 (There was an option to buy 2 for £15.85, instead of one for £14.85, but for the extra pound for a spare this seemed worthwhile). Note that you do not need to install ASCOMPAD, EQMOD will work out-of-the-box with gamepads. However you will need to install the driver that comes with the gamepad and configure it in windows, but this is straightforward, and once done EQMOD will work fine.
Once you have the gamepad up and running you will want to setup your key mappings. I set mine up as follows, this seemed a logical assignment for me:
Also its a good idea to download the audio files for EQMOD and get these installed. This seems gimmicky at first, but its really useful to get audio confirmation when at the scope in the dark. Install the True Voice Sounds, although in future I might use one of the many TTS API’s out there to record my own at sometime. Here are the assignments.
Cartes du Ciel
I’ve been using CDC for about 15 years now and it is an excellent bit of software (I even contributed a few minor things to the project many years ago, so maybe I’m biased, but honestly it really is very good, and its free!) Here is CDC full screen. Notice the “Telescope” option on the main menu, click on this.
This has the main options to get connected and control your scope. The first thing to do is click on “Telescope settings…”.
On the menu that appears make sure you have “ASCOM” selected.
Here are my settings in EQMOD ASCOM setup. You should only need to set these once. Note my USB connection is through COM3, the little binocular button seems to find this OK without having to know this (but I guess other people may need to use Windows devices dialogue or just try each in turn until it works).
Next open the telescopes “Control panel…” On this click on the “Connect” button at the bottom left, the red square next to this should turn green and the main EQMOD control menu will open.
You can see on this windows the scope is currently parked, the unpark button is at the bottom of the EQMOD dialogue.
Finally you can click on the Slew menu to goto to an object. So its simple with CDC to type an objects name or ID in the search window, then do a telescope slew. Its works really well, for instance you can see the object you are centred on as well as the telescopes position as it slews across the sky in real time.
Of course to use CDC as above you have to have connected and installed EQMOD first. Here is the expanded EQMOD controller page with my settings. You can flip between the minimal version and this full version clicking one the “>>>” and “<<<” (button 1).
I’ve highlighted the main config buttons in the image, they are:
Corrupted INI file
During the setup of EQMOD, I once had to reboot which caused the eqmod ini file to become unreadable for whatever reason. This not only stops EQMOD from starting, when you do get the software back up and running (but deleting the ini files) all of your settings are lost, and I mean all of them, your audio file pages, your lat long, your star alignments etc…. I thus strongly suggest you copy these files to a safe folder, you can use them to restore all your settings, audio setup, sync stars etc. Trust me, this is not optional!
The park/unpark dialogue
For me this is one of the most important features of EQMOD. My observatory is designed to have a small footprint in the garden and because of the height and the way the roof and doors open I have to lay the scope on its side when opening and shutting the roof. This option allows me to park the scope in any orientation. I then use the gamepad “Start” button as unpark, i.e. start the nights observing.
Once you have everything setup you will need to star align. Here is my procedure in CDC.
- Level the mount.
- Roughly align to the pole star using the polar scope as you would normally with an EQ6.
- Drift align for better tracking (although things still work pretty well without this step!)
- Start-up your planetarium program (see Cartes du Ciel above).
- Connect to the mount.
- Select a star and slew.
- Find the star in the eyepiece and hit sync.
- Repeat steps 6 and 7 for a bunch of stars around the sky.
I’m still writing the content below this point,
I’ll hopefully get this finished be the end of July 2016.
For guiding I use PHD2, which is simply put a fantastic bit of software
For capturing images and videos I use Backyard EOS, I use the premium edition which costs $50. Its the only bit of software I have bought for my setup (other than Win 10). It has some nice features other than the image capture bit.
- You can tweak the position of the mount from within Backyard EOS.
- It shows local weather, temperature, and dew point.