Observatory Automation Project

Like so many other astronomers, I am now starting on a project to upgrade my observatory to allow full unattended imaging. My definition of ‘unattended’ is that I will be at home but potentially inside the house. Although this project would give the capability of full robotic operation, I’m not sure if that is one of my current goals..

So, I would like to be able to:

The system will:

All good projects need clear deliverables, so I need to formalise these in detail. The good thing is that I think I have all the software needed, and I know the main components needed to be able to switch on the observatory.

I’m going to give a big shout out to Steve Richards of The Chanctonbury Observatory at this point. He has recently completed a similar project – hence the inspiration – with his dome, and he has been very kind to share his experiences and learnings.


The project will be split into three phases – this will allow me to keep track of all the activities needed in a logical order, and partly due to cost. The phases are:

Phase 1 – Software

This phase will ensure that all of the software components are configured and communicate correctly. It is likely that the observatory PC will be wiped and re-installed from scratch and then all software freshly installed. This will be the laborious part! Once complete, this phase will enable me to remotely control the imaging session from inside the house.

Phase 2 – Power

This phase is concerned with remotely controlling the power for the various components. This is likely to be controlled via a Velleman VM110N and VM129, coupled with the LesveDome ASCOM driver software (this seems to the most common one outside of the more expensive ACP route). There is no roof power at this stage of the project – this will be in Phase 3

So, I will build control circuits to remotely power:

Phase 3 – Roof

The roof on the observatory needs some work before I can think about remote operation. While the current construction is fine for pushing by hand, it is too much effort for 12v motors. So, this will need some careful thought – potentially a new light-weight roof, but as this is likely to be well into 2017, it gives me time to explore options.