Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Final thoughts from Calstar 2014

On the final evenings of Calstar, I worked with a neighbor camper who was setting up gear for the first time. I'd met Wes at GSSP earlier in the year and so it was nice to reconnect. 
Carl and Wes before nightfall

He was using a new IOptron z-mount with a new QSI camera and Lodestar with a new laptop. Lots of learning to do in just a few nights! Note all the cardboard boxes in the picture above.  In this picture, everybody is all happy before the night(mare).

There were some serious challenges that night with getting the camera to talk to the laptop.  Lots of troubleshooting was done to figure out what could be done. We used the barely-there internet from Casey's phone to look online for drivers. 

The next night, the camera was able to talk just fine to the laptop and the evening's exercise of getting Maxim and PHD to talk to the mount was well underway.  Unfortunately, there were issues with getting the mount to talk to the computer as ASCOM wasn't setup.  Using the hand paddle, we slewed around to the basic stars, did alignments and got a few test images of M27 to ensure focus and framing.

During this time we learned that the Lodestar was no longer issuing guide commands.  Rather, it was issuing the commands, but the instructions weren't getting to the mount.  We checked LED activity when manually slewing within PHD to confirm that certain directions weren't working.  PHD calibration was failing, but it required so long to show the error (40+ steps) that we'd miss the error message.

As a final insult, the scope slid off the mount, damaging the adapter plate on the camera.  Things looked like they would have to go back to QSI for repairs. Frustration, gnashing of teeth, and cold temperature all combined to make it so we didn't get much time to just look at the stars on Friday and Saturday nights.

In thinking afterwards I believe that the lodestar st4 jack had been plugged into the firmware port on the mount at some time earlier. This has been known to fry the couplers on the camera. It makes sense because we saw that phd could manually issue slews only in certain directions.

I didn't get Wes' contact information, so I don't know what was the outcome after the event.