Robotic Telescope

by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Robotic telescopes are complex systems that usually include many subsystems. These subsystems include equipment that offer telescope pointing capability, procedure of the detector (usually a CCD camera), control of the dome or telescope enclosure, control over the telescope’s focuser, detection of weather, and alternative features. Frequently these differing subsystems are presided over with a master control program, that is virtually usually a software component.

Robotic telescopes work under closed loop or open loop principles. In an open loop program, a robotic telescope program points itself and collects its information without inspecting the results of its operations to confirm it really is working correctly. An open loop telescope is often mentioned to be working on belief, because if anything goes incorrect, there is not any technique for the control program to identify it and pay.

A shut loop program has the capability to evaluate its operations through redundant inputs to identify mistakes. A popular these input will be position encoders found on the telescope’s axes of motion, or the capability of evaluating the system’s pictures to confirm it was pointed at the correct field of view when they were exposed.

Most robotic telescopes are little telescopes. While big observatory instruments can be very automated, some are operated without attendants.

History of pro robotic telescopes

Robotic telescopes were initially developed by astronomers after electromechanical interfaces to computers became usual at observatories. Early examples were pricey, had limited features, and included a big quantity of distinctive subsystems, both in hardware and software. This contributed to a deficiency of progress in the development of robotic telescopes early in their history.

By the early 1980s, with all the supply of inexpensive computers, many worthwhile robotic telescope projects were conceived, along with a some were developed. The 1985 book, Microcomputer Control of Telescopes, by Mark Trueblood and Russell M. Genet, had been a landmark technology research in the field. One of the book’s achievements was pointing out several factors, some very subtle, why telescopes couldn’t be reliably pointed utilizing just standard astronomical calculations. The concepts explored in this book share a prevalent history with all the telescope mount mistake modeling software called Tpoint, which appeared within the initial generation of big automated telescopes in the 1970s, notably the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope.

Since the late 1980s, the University of Iowa has been in the forefront of robotic telescope development found on the expert side. The Automated Telescope Facility (ATF), developed in the early 1990s, was found found on the rooftop of the physics building at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. They went on to complete the Iowa Robotic Observatory, a robotic and remote telescope at the private Winer Observatory in 1997. This program effectively noticed varying stars and contributed observations to many of scientific forms. In May 2002, they completed the Rigel Telescope. The Rigel had been a 0.37-meter (14.5-inch) F/14 built by Optical Mechanics, Inc. and controlled by the Talon system. Each of these became a development toward a more automated and utilitarian observatory.

One of the biggest present networks of robotic telescopes is RoboNet, operated with a consortium of UK colleges. The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Project is another illustration of the pro robotic telescope. LINEAR’s competitors, the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search, Catalina Sky Survey, Spacewatch, and others, have moreover developed differing degrees of automation.

In 2002, the RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response (RAPTOR) project forced the envelope of automated robotic astronomy by becoming the initial totally independent closedoop robotic telescope. RAPTOR was tailored in 2000 and started full deployment in 2002. Its initial light on among the broad field instruments was in late 2001, with all the 2nd broad field program coming online in early 2002. Closed loop operations started in 2002. Originally the objective of RAPTOR was to develop a program of ground-based telescopes that might reliably reply to satellite triggers and more importantly, identify transients in real-time and generate informs with source places to help follow-up observations with additional, bigger, telescopes. It has attained both of these objectives very effectively. Then RAPTOR has been re-tuned to function as the key hardware element of the Thinking Telescopes Technologies Project. Its new mandate is the monitoring of the evening sky seeking interesting and anomalous actions in persistent sources utilizing a few of the many advanced robotic software ever deployed. The two wide field systems are a mosaic of CCD cameras. The mosaic covers and region of around 1500 square levels to a level of 12th magnitude. Centered in each broad field range is a single fovea program with a field of view of 4 levels and level of 16th magnitude. The broad field systems are split with a 38km baseline. Supporting these broad field systems are 2 alternative operational telescopes. The initially of these is a cataloging patrol instrument with a mosaic 16 square degree field of view right down to 16 magnitude. The additional program is a .4m OTA with a yielding a level of 19-20th magnitude along with a coverage of .35 degrees. Three extra systems are undergoing development and testing and deployment is staged over the upcoming 2 years. The systems are installed on custom produced, fast-slewing mounts capable of achieving any point in the sky in 3 seconds. The RAPTOR System is situated on website at Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA) and has been supported through the Laboratory’s Directed Research and Development funds.

In 2004, some expert robotic telescopes were characterized with a deficiency of shape creativity along with a reliance on closed source and proprietary software. The software is normally distinctive to the telescope it was crafted for and can not be utilized on any different program. Frequently, robotic telescope software developed at colleges becomes impossible to keep and eventually obsolete because the graduate pupils who wrote it move forward to new positions, and their organizations lose their knowledge. Large telescope consortia or government funded laboratories don’t tend to have this same reduction of programmers as experienced by colleges. Professional systems commonly feature high observing efficiency and dependability. There is moreover an improving tendency to follow ASCOM technologies at a some pro facilities (see following section). The need for proprietary software is normally driven by the competition for analysis $ between organizations.

History of amateurish robotic telescopes

In 2004, many robotic telescopes are in the hands of recreational astronomers. A prerequisite for the explosion of amateur robotic telescopes was the supply of fairly inexpensive CCD cameras, which appeared found on the commercial marketplace in the early 1990s. These cameras not just authorized amateur astronomers to create pleasing pictures of the evening sky, and encouraged more sophisticated amateurs to follow analysis projects in cooperation with expert astronomers. The main motive behind the development of amateur robotic telescopes has been the tedium of generating research-oriented astronomical observations, like taking endlessly repetitive pictures of the varying star.

In 1998, Bob Denny conceived of the software interface standard for astronomical equipment, based on Microsoft’s Component Object Model, which he called the Astronomy Common Object Model (ASCOM). He equally wrote and published the initial samples of this standard, in the shape of commercial telescope control and image analysis programs, and many freeware components. He moreover persuaded Doug George to incorporate ASCOM capability into a commercial camera control software system. Through this technologies, a master control program that integrated these applications can conveniently be created in perl, VBScript, or JavaScript. A sample script of that nature was offered by Denny.

Following coverage of ASCOM in Sky & Telescope magazine many months later, ASCOM architects including Bob Denny, Doug George, Tim Long, and others later influenced ASCOM into becoming a set of codified interface practices for freeware device motorists for telescopes, CCD cameras, telescope focusers, and astronomical observatory domes. As a outcome amateur robotic telescopes have become increasingly more sophisticated and reliable, while software fees have plunged. ASCOM has furthermore been adopted for some specialist robotic telescopes.

Meanwhile, ASCOM consumers crafted ever more capable master control systems. Papers presented at the Minor Planet Amateur-Professional Workshops (MPAPW) in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as well as the International Amateur-Professional Photoelectric Photometry Conferences of 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 recorded increasingly sophisticated master control systems. Some of the functions of these systems included automatic selection of observing targets, the ability to interrupt observing or rearrange observing plans for targets of chance, automatic selection of guide stars, and sophisticated mistake detection and correction algorithms.

Remote telescope program development began in 1999, with initially test runs on real telescope hardware in early 2000. RTS2 was main intended for Gamma ray burst follow-up observations, thus ability to interrupt observation was core element of its shape. During development, it became an integrated observatory administration suite. Other additions included employ of the Postgresql database for storing targets and observation logs, ability to do image processing including astrometry and performance of the real-time telescope corrections along with a web-based interface. RTS2 was within the beginning tailored as a completely open source program, without any proprietary components. In purchase to help growing list of mounts, sensors, CCDs and rooftop systems, it utilizes own, text based correspondence protocol. The RTS2 program is described in forms appearing in 2004 and 2006.

The Instrument Neutral Distributed Interface (INDI) was started in 2003. In comparison to the Microsoft Windows centric ASCOM standard, INDI is a platform independent protocol developed by Elwood C. Downey of ClearSky Institute to help control, automation, information purchase, and exchange among hardware equipment and software frontends.

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