WiFi Telescope Control For Your Astrophotography Setup
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WiFi Telescope Control For Your Astrophotography Setup

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WiFi Telescope Control? Explain. For some of us, the last quarter of the year means cold weather during our imaging sessions. As a matter of fact, putting on thermals isn’t enough for me. I tend to do a set it and forget it situation while I sit in a warm car or house. However without wifi telescope control, I sometimes found myself with a problem. A problem I could have fixed quickly when it happened.

ASIAIr WiFi telescope control

In order to stay warm while maintaining consistent acquisition, I turned to the Raspberry Pi. It’s a favorite for many including for example ZWO and their ASIair. In fact, at just under $65, you can cut the cord between your laptop and the rig. Conversely, you can purchase a mini pc that will do everything on your mount. Since the mini pc can do it all, your laptop or tablet or phone is simply acting as the monitor from afar and you’re using your current software. Particularly, no new software means simple transition for you and the price tag is similar to that of the ASIair, $150+.

WiFi Camera Control: Hardware Used

It’s important to realize that these experiments must have consistent hardware comparisons. With this in mind, here are the hardware choices used.

WiFi Camera Control: Software

Before I detail the hardware requirements we need to understand the software options that will help you stay warm and in control. Therefore, I’m going to discuss three such options. They are Indigo Sky, Astroberry and VirtualHere. I also use Astrophotography Tool. Likewise it will be the central tool for these comparisons.

In addition, on the Linux side of the operating system house, you’ll need to learn new capture software. If that is a challenge for you, spend the extra money on the mini pc. Otherwise, I consider them intuitive to learn like the ASIair.

The Indigo Server

Whenever we talk about the ASIair or similar, the tool that makes connectivity work is the Indigo Server. In addition, alongside Ascom, they are our industry standards for cross communication between platforms. And guess what? You can personally use it. At the present time, no such server option exists for Ascom and both Indigo Sky/Astroberry use the Indigo Server.

Indigo Sky

Indigo Sky is a dual software package for both your Windows computer and the RPI. Of course you will download both from their site and follow the install and setup instructions.

Indigo Sky WiFi Telescope Control

Additionally, it comes with the above Control Panel. Furthermore, through this panel you can add/remove drivers and change the settings according to your needs. To sum it up, once completing my setup, here are the results on the criteria important to me. Altogether, are related to answer the question of “Does it work?” Likewise, the most important criteria to me is Live View. Additionally here are the results.

CriteriaYes/No
Can the RPI use linux suite of tools for capture?No
Does APT connect with the ZWO camera?Yes
Does SharpCap connect with USB Camera?No
Does APT connect with the Canon Camera?Yes
Does Live View work real time w/ ZWO Camera?No
Does Live View work real time w/ Canon Camera?Yes
Do Pictures transfer to laptop w/ ZWO?No
Do Pictures transfer to laptop w/ Canon?Yes

To summarize, it works with one of my cameras from connect to capture. As shown above, I can connect any of the cameras to the laptop. Even though that is great, there’s the all important step of saving a photo to the drive on the laptop.

Other options…maybe?

So wait a minute, rather than save the picture to the laptop, can you save it to the RPI? This is one of the cons with this option whereas you would need to be well versed in Linux to figure it out. Also after many attempts, so long as a picture is not captured, I can’t save it to the RPI either. In conclusion, this option takes a lot of RPI and Linux experience to make it work. Unless you’re an expert in either, this option may not be of value to you.

Astroberry

Astroberry WiFi Telescope Control

Overall, the install is similar to Indigo Sky, and it is much more intuitive to use. It is coupled with a suite of software packages that will capture planetary, deep sky or perform plate solving/planetarium duties. Astroberry uses a web interface to remote into the RPI as can be seen above. Additionally, the suite of tools are powerful and simple enough to learn. Like before, does it work?

Results Using Linux Suite Of Tools

CriteriaYes/No
Do all of the tools connect with the ZWO camera?Yes
Do any of the tools connect with USB Camera?Yes
Do any of the tools connect with the Canon Camera?Yes
Does Live View work real time w/ ZWO Camera?Yes
Does Live View work real time w/ Canon Camera?Yes
Do Pictures transfer to RPI w/ ZWO?Yes
Do Pictures transfer to RPI w/ Canon?Yes

To begin with, everything worked from camera connections to data collection. Secondly, if you’re ok with learning new software, this is a winner! Additional positives, in comparison to the mini pc, the setup time is much shorter by hours and of course you save money.

Certainly, I like everything about this combination to include the WiFi telescope control interface. Accordingly, I’m going to try to connect with my laptop and use APT. Therefore, here are the results.

Results Using APT/SharpCap on Laptop

CriteriaYes/No
Can the RPI use linux suite of tools for capture?Yes
or does APT connect with the ZWO camera?Yes
or does SharpCap connect with USB Camera?No
or does APT connect with the Canon Camera?Yes
or does Live View work real time w/ ZWO Camera?No
or does Live View work real time w/ Canon Camera?Yes
or do Pictures transfer to laptop w/ ZWO?No
or do Pictures transfer to laptop w/ Canon?Yes

Aww, just when I thought I found something cool, I end up finding semi cool. I’m not done yet as there is still another option to review.

VirtualHere

Similarly, the previous two options were developed specifically for WiFi telescope control. However the third entry into this competition, VirtualHere, was developed to wirelessly interact with USB devices. Then, for me, it is worth exploring.

Straightaway, the first thing to note is the erosion of savings. The price for the software is $49 more than the other two. Although the combination of VirtualHere and the RPI is cheaper than the other established options, it’s not much cheaper.

Secondly, VirtualHere requires an intermediate skill level to install on the raspberry pi. A beginner can easily download and install the server, but can struggle with setting up auto starting of the server on the RPI. In any event, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Does it work?”

Results for VirtualHere

CriteriaYes/No
Can the RPI use linux suite of tools for capture?Yes
or does APT connect with the ZWO camera?Yes
or does SharpCap connect with USB Camera?Yes
or does APT connect with the Canon Camera?Yes
or does Live View work real time w/ ZWO Camera?No*
or does Live View work real time w/ Canon Camera?Yes
or do Pictures transfer to laptop w/ ZWO?Yes
or do Pictures transfer to laptop w/ Canon?Yes
* My ZWO camera was returned for replacement, not sure if that was the reason live view didn’t work.

Definitely bitter sweet success as it obviously failed my live view test with the ZWO camera. But there’s hope as I found out after that my camera was defective. Altogether, outside of the cost impact, this is a workable option because it does not care about drivers. Indeed, this sets it apart from the others in terms of flexibility.

Bonus Option

If you’re Linux savvy for the most part you can install the Linux Suite of Astrophotography Software, to include the Indi drivers, and use SSH to wireless connect to the Raspberry PI.

WiFi Telescope Control: Conclusions

Summary Table

OptionTotal CostEase of InstallNew Software to Learn
ASIair$119EasyYes
ASIair Pro$299EasyYes
Mini PC$150IntermediateNo
RPI w/ Indigo Sky*$70EasyNo
RPI w/ Astroberry$70EasyYes
RPI w/ VirtualHere$120IntermediateNo

Final Thoughts

Western Veil Nebula taking using Raspberry Pi and VirtualHere

In conclusion, the choice is yours and the options are suitable for many different situations. While I use Astroberry and VirtualHere, in order to minimize driver issues, I mostly use VirtualHere. When shooting with my DSLR, Astroberry is my choice and all others get VirtualHere. Obviously each option have pros that will benefit you. Which ever way you go, I hope this was helpful. In closing, remember that the sky is only the limit when your mind is unwilling to fly. Go beyond.

Kevin Francis

Kevin Francis is a Mechanical Engineer by day, amateur Astrophotographer by night who is taking his Google Pixel smartphone camera to new limits.