...because it seems there is not alot of Nexstar SE Info out there

The idea for starting my own website/blog came to me when I was looking for information about the Nexstar SE series telescopes on the internet. There are a couple of amateur sites out there (check the list of sites on the left) as well as the official Celestron website but I found that most of these sites were sometimes catered to the seasoned amateur astronomer and were a little difficult for me to understand. So I decided to write down my experience with this telescope so that maybe someone else might benefit from it. Oh - and I don't have any connections to Celestron - I only chose the orange color for the blog since I thought it would go nice with all the pictures of an orange telescope ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

how to remote control your telescope - part 1

it's a wonderful night out but it's butt-freezing cold - what can i do ?

With the weather being as cold and bad as it is right now, i spent some time researching ways to remotely control the telescope without having to leave the comfortable warmth of the house. I would like to be able to do the following:

  • Remote control the telescope through a planetarium software on a laptop
  • Remote control my DSLR to take pictures
  • Remote control a webcam to take planetary images or to track what the scope is looking at when a DSLR camera is used

So far i understand that the following pieces are necessary:
  1. A windows laptop
  2. Planetarium software and necessary drivers that will let you control a telescope
  3. An approximately x meter long serial cable to connect the telescope to a laptop
  4. A webcam that can work in low light conditions and a piece of software that displays what the webcam is seing. I need this webcam since my DSLR does not allow for direct output of finder video data. If it could do that, then i would not need the webcam and could use the DSLR's output directly
  5. An optional finderscope that i can attach the webcam to in order to use it for tracking or guiding
  6. A guiding software that works with a webcam
  7. An active USB repeater of x meter length to get the webcam signal to the laptop
  8. A remote release cable or wireless remote release solution of x meter length for my SLR camera
So far these are the components i've been able to find with great help from the community on www.cloudynights.com. Now to the details:

Windows laptop and the necessary planetarium software
My research showed that there are a couple of nice planetarium applications out there. Not all of them include telescope control features. Some that do offer this are free (Stellarium) and some have to be paid for (Starry Night Pro). I decided to look at Stellarium since it is free. I am using Starry Night Digital Download on my Mac and updating to the Pro version, which would allow for telescope control was over 100USD.

The reason for going with a windows based laptop and not with a macbook was, that it appears that the ASCOM driver plattform as well as the Celestron Nexstar driver are not available for OS X.

So these are the components that i found out you need:

  • Planetarium Software: Stellarium Software (v.10.2) / Free
  • Interface to control the Scope via Stellarium: Stellariumscope / Free
  • Driver Plattform: ASCOMPlatform5b / Free
  • Driver for the Celestron Nexstar6SE: Celestron (5.0.14) / Free
  • Webcam: Celestron Neximage / found it on ebay for 99USD
  • Finderscope: Antares 5x70 finderscope with mounting bracket. This finder allows you to change eyepieces so that an optional webcam can be attached / 130USD
  • Remote control cable or wireless extension for my Panasonic G1 DSLR: still looking : ( / 38USD on ebay, chinese made)
  • Serial cable extension: available almost everywhere. No active components are necessary / approx. 10 USD
  • Active USB cable: available almost everywhere. I bought a 5 meter cable and the instructions on the box say that four of those cables can be strung together/ approx. 20 USD
You can also find most of the above files in my public folder on me.com. Here's the link: http://public.me.com/baierfamily - the password is "nexstar"

I've received some comments why i did not use the Celestron Nexremote software. That's a good question ! I have no idea where i put the disc when i unpacked the scope ! And from what i could read in the manual, the Nexremote software only seems to emulate the hand controller. You still need a separate planetarium software integration. So until i find the disc up in the attic, i'll have to use the tools i currently have : )

Addition (Jan 15th 2010): I got a nice comment from a cloudynights member called "kkokkolis" (i think he's from Greece) and he pointed out that the nexremote software adds some nice features like:
  • Text to speech
  • Extended balloon search
  • A virtual port to use nexremote parallel to other software like Stellarium
Thanks Kkokkolis for the input - i'll have to try Nexremote the next time i get a chance !

This is how i installed and set up everything:
  1. Install Stellarium
  2. Install Stellariumscope
  3. Install ASCOM Driver Platform
  4. Install Celestron Driver
  5. Start Stellariumscope and chose the Nexstar 6SE from the list of telescopes. Then hit the "connect" button
  6. Start Stellarium
  7. Now you get a nice little window with left, right, up and down arrow and when you click on those, then - holy cow - the telescope moves ! I was already quite impressed by then !
  8. Align your telescope. (so far, that's as far as i got because the weather has been so bad, i've not been able to align the telescope yet)
I ordered a 7.5 meter serial cable extension for the standard celestron serial cable which worked flawlessly. I also ordered the neximage webcam on ebay for approx. 100USD. I read online that the necessary USB extensions are quite a different matter and that for anything going above 5 meters a special "active" USB "repeater" cable has to be used. So i ordered a 5 meter active extension at a local store.

Now i'm waiting for a good night to align the telescope so that i can see if the point and goto functionality within Stellarium works as designed and i'll have to wait for the neximage webcam as well.

Then i'll have to figure out how to autoguide using the webcam and from what i've seen this seems to be a quite complicated task that'll take me a while to wrap my head around. And it also looks like i'll need yet another off axis guidescope ? Nooooooooo !



12 comments:

  1. Hi Marc,
    Very nice your blog about the Nexstar 6SE.
    I’am just plan to buy this telescope (this will be my first one), and with your site you have clarffied some of my last interrogation.

    Thanks à lot and I’am waiting the following Part

    Regards

    Didier

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  2. Hi Didier - I'm glad my blog could help you decide. The 6SE for sure is a great telescope - especially if you don't have the extra budget to go for the 8SE, or if you still want to be able to carry your scope around easily.

    Good luck with your new scope and let me know how you're doing !
    Cheers
    Marc

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  3. Hello Marc I like this blog and I hope it lives a long time, accumulating every detail on Nexstar 6SE (and all the Nexstar family). I also have the 6SE. I use Nexremote and it is not just an emulation. The best parts are
    1. Text to speech (with a sexy woman's voice for me, this way you feel less lonely during the night)
    2. Extended balloon text for objects info
    3. Ability to use a remote control pad (you do not look or touch the PC or the HC this way, you just look through the eyepiece, hear the voice and use the control pad blind- perhaps I could add motor focus control also).
    4. Finally a virtual port to also use stellarium or some other program simultaneously.
    You should try it.

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  4. Hi Mark, please post a video.

    Gustavo

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  5. Kkokkolis - how exactly does the text to speech work ? It sounds interesting !

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  6. Kkokkolis - the same goes for the balloon text - how exactly do you use that and where ?

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  7. Gustavo - what exactly would you like a video of ? Some neximage footage ? Unfortunately I've not been able to use it yet due to the bad weather we've been having for weeks...

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  8. No, no just see how your telescope works with your laptop. There is a link that you will find very interesting!!

    http://www.scopestuff.com/ss_jem1.htm

    Regards,
    Gustavo

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  9. great site! I got the 6SE for Christmas and just got the neximage camera. Can't wait to try it all together!!!

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  10. Great step by step data.
    Thanks

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  11. Hi. I am totally 'green' with this stuff. I own a Celestron Nexstar 8SE and have downloaded/installed the items you listed above. I also have Nexremote CD, which I have not installed yet. Would you please give me some idea how to get started with the driver stuff (and Nexremote)? I appreciate any help. Andrew

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  12. thanks


    Finally I found a great Website
    Special for nexstar se

    ReplyDelete