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Posted (edited)

Hello!

I'm afraid this will be yet another DIY all sky camera build! 😂 Hopefully interesting though... While developing my all sky software (shameless plug, see signature) one of the biggest problems is that I don't actually have a permanent all sky camera setup myself. I live in the middle of a big city with massive light pollution where the summer temperatures are just creeping up to 40C+, not ideal... So for a while I have been thinking about setting up a remote all sky camera to help with the testing of the AllSkEye app. Initially the idea was to mount it at a relatives house but then once I looked into what would be required to make it fully remote controllable I was thinking that if I go to all that trouble, I might as well look for a location with great weather and dark skies.

After a few inquiries I got a really great response from Jose at the E-Eye remote hosting facility in Spain. This was fantastic news because not only will the camera have nice weather and dark skies but the facility also has fibre broadband which is almost a must for what I have in mind further down the road (I am also planning to transfer some image data to cloud storage for archiving and further processing and that could potentially be a lot of data). So this is where it is going to go (all being well and my 3D printer not packing up!

I'll try to follow my progress here, maybe it will be helpful for someone. The basic idea is pretty simple:

  • Setup a completely autonomous and remotely controllable all sky camera 

Sounds easy enough... Well, let me tell you, it is not! To anyone having setup your own remotely hosted scope setup, my hat off to you, it's not an easy task! Initially I split this project into two parts:

  • The camera, lens, housing and everything that goes with it
  • The control box that will control the above

Unfortunately I don't have time just now to go into any details but will hopefully be able to do so soon. I just though if I don't start this thread soon I never will 😀. The state of play at the moment is that the control box is pretty complete and the camera housing is nearing completion (3D printer is very busy, not a fast manufacturing process unfortunately).

Mike

Here are a few pictures of what it looks like at the moment:

3.jpg.add6bc402b7002ced332ca99d27ef872.jpg

2.jpg.5ae2aff123c9016bac8fac55f50ed7f4.jpg1.jpg.1555ae92ba37bdad41205c1703364d21.jpg

Edited by AngryDonkey
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Well it's been some time 😀! Finally I have some time to write something down and good news is that the camera system is up and running and working well!

In the end this is the concept I went with:

spacer.png

Camera Housing Components:

  • ASI ZWO 178MC
  • Fujinon 1.8mm f/1.8 Fisheye lens (HF1.8HB-L1)
  • 'Dewcontrol.com' all sky camera heating element
  • 50mm PC Fan
  • Waterproof USB connection
  • Waterproof 9 Core cable connection
  • Knight Optical BK7 glass dome
  • 12V DC Focus Motor

Control box components:

  • 220V to 12V DC Transfomer
  • 12V to 19V step up converter for Intel NUC power supply
  • Intel NUC i5 mini PC
  • Lunatico Dragonfly controller
  • Yepkit USB switchable hub
  • Netgear ProSafe managed Switch

Camera Housing:

To be able to prototype and create the housing I finally had to bite the bullet and buy a 3D printer… I decided to go for a Creality CR10s Pro which was reasonably priced (even including all the upgrades and small fixes it needed to become a decent printer ) and had a large enough print area. After brushing up on (the excellent and free) Fusion 360 I created the following concept:

  • A solid main body which can be permanently attached to the mounting point
  • A dome with compression ‘ring/lid’ to push the dome onto a rubber gasket and provide a waterproof seal. A lip on the top of the main body slightly raised into the dome provides additional protection should any water seep through.
  • A removable assembly which ‘hangs’ inside the main body and contains all internal parts (camera, lens, heater, focus mechanism, fan, connectors). This can be easily slid out from the main body for maintenance by turning the assembly until the support beams reach a gap in the support ring. It also has three adjustment screws which can be used to level and adjust the height of the assembly inside the main body.
  • A bottom lid which acts as protection from underneath and shields the connectors from the elements. It’s also used to fix the hanging assembly in place.

After a lot of trial and error, test prints and changes this was the final result:

spacer.png

More to follow soon...

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Forgot to add that as I’m not really setup to print ABS so I decided to print all parts open to the elements in PETG (which was surprisingly easy to print!). This should hopefully provide good protection from the elements as well as sunlight. All internal parts were printed in PLA.

Dome

I initially was going to use a spare Starlight Xpress Oculus dome for the setup however pretty much last minute I decided to replace it with a real glass (BK7) dome from Knight Optical in the UK. That was an expensive decision but I think it was worth it. Especially under bright conditions (e.g. moonlight) the glass dome has much less scatter compared to the Perspex dome. I was also hoping it would last longer and stay cleaner but only time will tell. I did treat it with a nano coating so rain would pearl off easily, hopefully that will help as well. Funny enough (or as expected) it doesn’t rain often, which is obviously great but I think is a bit of a disadvantage in terms of keeping it clean.

Dome.jpg

One small challenge in changing to the glass dome was that the dome does not come with a lip i.e. it’s a perfect half sphere. So I had to modify the clamping ring to very exact measurements (slightly smaller than the dome diameter) to ensure that the ring would push the dome onto the gasket without the dome slipping out at the top. I also didn’t want it too high as not to loose the 180 degree visibility.

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30 minutes ago, AngryDonkey said:

 Funny enough (or as expected) it doesn’t rain often, which is obviously great but I think is a bit of a disadvantage in terms of keeping it clean.

Yes, that could be an issue. I live in southern Spain and we haven't had any significant rainfall since April. However, what we do get (like this afternoon) is a few spats of dust-laden rain. Not enough to water the plants but enough for the car to need washing.
If you are planning on having the dome exposed to the elements 24*7, I reckon that you would need a means of removing this sort of deposit from your dome from time to time.
Here's a photo of my car's rear window. It was clean at the weekend, honest!

car-rain.thumb.jpg.27d73508c7cd14ce3ed659a0068e2637.jpg

Edited by pete_l
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Yes, I know exactly what you mean! It the same in the middle east... Problem here is you get a fine for a dirty car 😀.

Yes it will definitely need some elbow grease to keep it clean, I will beg the guys at e-EyE to do it once a month.

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A bit more 😀:

Lens and Camera Assembly / Heater / Focus Mechanism

In the final design the camera is screwed into a bottom assembly plate which also encloses the camera with four pillars. On top of these pillars sits the heating element holder. The lens is loosely screwed into the camera end thread which allows the focus motor to move it.

Top-e1568132733204.jpg

The camera (ASI 178MC) and lens (Fujinon 1.8mm f/1.8 Fisheye) combination produces a good field of view. It doesn’t quite give a full 180-degree circle but uses the available sensor area pretty well (and leaves some space for the text and logo overlay).

Heating / Cooling / De-Misting

The heating element was purchased from dewcontrol.com. Having a heating circle seems like a good idea as the heat is dissipated evenly to the dome. I wanted to get the heating element as close as possible, preferably into the dome but discovered that the Fujinon lens was just a little bit too big and it wouldn’t slide over it. So I had to come up with a heating element holder to position the heater in between the camera and the lens. As the dome is fairly small I think this will work well and also ensure that the lens is warmed as well.

Fan.jpg

I wasn’t sure whether I needed any cooling or de-misting mechanism but to be on the safe side I decided to install a small 12V PC fan in any case. The fan draws air from the bottom of the housing and blows it through a small duct past the heating element towards the dome. The housing has small ventilation holes at the very top which will hopefully allow some of the air to escape and produce a small airflow through the dome.

Focus Mechanism

I was really in two minds whether to include a remote focus mechanism or not i.e. functionality vs. complexity. With hindsight both came true… It is super convenient to focus the lens and works really well but unfortunately it also seems to have a slight problem in that very occasionally it seems to drift just a tiny bit and needs refocusing. It didn’t do that during testing… Anyhow, I’m sure I will get to the bottom of it eventually, certainly on my next visit to e-Eye The focus mechanism consists of two 3D printed gears, one around the lend shaft, the other on a vertical DC motor shaft. There is also a small spring mechanism to push the gears together and prevent the lens from being too loose. This introduces a slight bit of tilt which isn’t very noticeable though. The control mechanism is a very simple turn this way, turn the other way mechanism by changing the polarity of the 12V supply.

Focus-e1568132854356.jpg

Connections

On the camera side there are two waterproof connectors:

  • USB
  • 9 Core Cable

Connectors.jpg

To further protect the connectors from the elements and to prevent bug ingress through the ventilation slits I also added a mesh and bottom lid:

ConnectorCover.jpg

Edited by AngryDonkey
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How about a semi-circular "wiper blade" activated by small motor, to clean the outside of the dome.....  I'm not sure if Gina hasn't knocked one up ??

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6 minutes ago, Dr_Ju_ju said:

How about a semi-circular "wiper blade" activated by small motor, to clean the outside of the dome.....  I'm not sure if Gina hasn't knocked one up ??

Complete with a bottle of screenwash and a little jet :grin:

Dave

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…. it did cross my mind ......

Methinks another Arduino Nano & some drivers......

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45 minutes ago, Dr_Ju_ju said:

How about a semi-circular "wiper blade" activated by small motor, to clean the outside of the dome.....  I'm not sure if Gina hasn't knocked one up ??

Not far from the truth, I did consider something like this! 😂 But turned out too complex and I was worried that it would leave streaks. A skilled worker with a cloth seems more reliable... 

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And onwards to the control box:

Control Box

For my control box I reused an old PC housing which I still had kicking around, probably from the last century… Here I needed to find space for:

  • The Intel NUC PC
  • A 12V Power supply
  • A 12V to 19V converter to supply the NUC with 19V
  • A relay control box to do all the switching (heater, fan ,focus, reset NUC, reset network switch) – for this I selected a Lunatico Dragonfly controller
  • A network switch to distribute the LAN network
  • A USB switch to allow physical on/off switching of the USB cable to the camera (to reset the camera should it lock up)

External connections:

  • USB hub to connect cameras
  • Ethernet port to connect LAN
  • 9 core cable connector for camera housing supply and switching
  • 220V Power supply

This was the final layout:

Controlbox.jpg

I also decided to add a small UPS which supplies the power for the control box and gives around 5 to 10 minutes of operation. It’s also linked to the NUC via a USB cable and will trigger a shutdown if the battery runs out.

Dragonfly

The Dragonfly control box was a bit of a ‘luxury item’ as I could have done the same with a much cheaper USB or UDP relay board (eventually I think I will swap the Dragonfly out and put it to better use, hopefully for my own remote scope setup ). It is very convenient though as you can reach it directly from anywhere with an internet connection which is of great help if there are issues with the other components (PC, IP Switch, etc.). Already I’ve used it a couple of times to reboot the PC after some dubious Windows updates where the PC would not respond to Teamviewer anymore.

The Dragonfly is also becoming much smarter with every update. You can run internal scripts as well as internal macros which are ideal for watcher functions such as reboot the switch or PC if no internet connection for x seconds and such like. Clever piece of kit!

PC / Software

The PC is a small form factor Intel NUC i5 machine which is more than capable of running the whole setup and has plenty of connectivity to make everything work. On the USB side I also included a Yepkit USB switchable hub which basically allows you to remotely switch a USB connection as if you had physically unplugged the cable. I though this might come in useful if the camera/USB connection locks up which mostly requires unplugging of the device. In practice I’ve not ever actually needed it so far which I guess is a good thing! Better safe than sorry. For PC remote control I am using Teamviewer which seems to work pretty well and is reasonably fast (as well as free!).

AllSkEyeUi.jpg

The camera is of course run by the latest preview build of AllSkEye ! Luckily the internet connection is fast, so uploading the latest images to my, as well as the e-Eye website via ftp is no problem at all. All other files are kept locally at the moment but I do have plans to export original fits files for further processing and archiving at some point.

AllSkEye is also controlling the fan and heater inside the camera. This is done via the AllSkEye trigger mechanism and scripts that are called when certain conditions occur. At the time of writing only the cooling fan is seeing some action. It’s pretty hot during the day and with the greenhouse effect the camera sometimes reaches close to 60 degrees C… Once the winter and/or bad weather arrives I will need to find good trigger points in temperature and humidity to hopefully keep the camera dome dew and frost free. Time will tell!

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I avoid inside dome misting by keeping the air inside my ASC dry with a few desiccant packs.  The outside needs a dew heater to stop dew forming.

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I got a dew heater that go round EP  it fit round the camera hopeing it may work 1 year on still siting here .

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I am hoping that the combined heat from the camera and dew heater will keep the top part dew and moisture free. To be on the safe side I've also treated all connections with CorrosionX HD so in theory everything should work underwater 😂. It feels odd though to spray that stuff into the USB ports but apparently it's an excellent conductor (on touching metals) as well as a very strong insulator. Figure that one out, clever stuff!

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Location / Installation

I was really happy that I got such a positive response from Jose Luis at the e-EyE remote hosting facility in Extremadura, Spain! The location is perfect for my needs with low light pollution, clear skies and a fast, fibreoptic connected internet connection. It’s also pretty easy to get to from the main hubs in Europe, which was another consideration as I wanted to go there personally to install it.

eeye1.jpg

Map.jpg

After all the preparations were completed, I booked a little ‘holiday’ directly at e-Eye. They do have some fantastic facilities with really nice Bungalows, a swimming pool and beautiful surroundings so I decided to stay for three nights to relax! I was really glad I did as it was very peaceful and quiet (no kids - mine I mean 😀), just what I needed!

eeye2.jpg

Once I got there, the team was extremely helpful in getting me up and running and we manage to fix the housing to the control room roof of the new remote hosting complex in no time. The control box was stationed inside the control room and from there it was pretty much plug and play.

install1.jpg

install3.jpg

install4-e1568133306300.jpg

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After some fiddling with settings and focus the results were really amazing (compared to what I managed to produce before):

eEye-Sample.png

Here is a sample video of an entire night:

I’ve also managed to capture a few nice meteors since. Here is a big one:

eEye-Meteor.png

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Fantastic. Totally fantastic. You must be delighted now !

Ive now got a 178mc so I do find this thread inspiring! Any spare housing lol 

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7 hours ago, tooth_dr said:

Fantastic. Totally fantastic. You must be delighted now !

Ive now got a 178mc so I do find this thread inspiring! Any spare housing lol 

Thank you! Yes for now I'm pretty happy, working on the next project 😂

Sorry no spare housings, I had planned to have a spare but due to user error (turned off the bed heating on my 3D printer during the print by mistake) it came loose and was knocked off the printer. Of course the 3D printer does not realise this and happily continues to print into thin air.... plastic spaghetti... 🤣. It takes about 40h to print it so I decided one was enough...

Edited by AngryDonkey
Although the printer was 'off course' it should have been 'of' :-)
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Ah yes...  I've printed plenty of plastic spaghetti in my time 🤣

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I'm using an ASI178MC camera in my ASC but cooling it with Peltier TEC and water cooling.  A sealed chamber with desiccant bags provides a moisture free environment to stop dew and frost.

Edited by Gina

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1 hour ago, Gina said:

I'm using an ASI178MC camera in my ASC but cooling it with Peltier TEC and water cooling.  A sealed chamber with desiccant bags provides a moisture free environment to stop dew and frost.

Been following your thread with interest! 

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