CCDAutoPilot Version 5
Basic and Professional Editions
© 2003-2012, John C. Smith, All rights reserved
CCDAutoPilot is technically an "executive" program that issues commands to other programs, such as that for your camera, focuser, telescope, rotator, dome, etc. that you would routinely use to collect data during the course of an evening's observing session. If you were operating the system manually, you would have to take certain actions with one or more programs at certain times to achieve a successful imaging run. With CCDAutoPilot, you can set up the activities during the day or whenever convenient and CCDAutoPilot will execute those activities at the appropriate time and take appropriate corrective action if things don't go as planned.
CCDAutoPilot currently works with CCDSoft, MaxImDL, TheSky6, TheSkyX, ASCOM telescopes, focusers, rotators and domes, TAKometer, RCOS PIR, Optec Pyxis, Boltwood Cloud Sensor I, II and compatibles, DigitalDomeWorks, Automadome and FlipFlat/FlatMan artificial flat sources. Plate solving can be via CCDSoft/TheSky6, TheSkyX and PinPoint. Entry points are provided at key points during the course of a session to introduce external programs for specific needs. Thus, the entire observatory, regardless of size or complexity, can be automated from sunset to sunrise.
Assuming you have configured those programs you use in your observatory and are presently operating them successfully, you will need to Initialize CCDAutoPilot. This is the key process by which CCDAutoPilot learns about your system in order to achieve full automation. Once initialized, you can select one or more targets anywhere in the sky and CCDAutoPilot will slew your mount to that location within a few arc-sec., regardless of your mount's pointing accuracy, move your rotator (if you use one) to the correct position, automatically calibrate your guider and guide exposure and take whatever data you want for each target. It will do in process data assessment and move any data that doesn't meet your quality assessment to another folder. It will take any dark and/or bias frames you want either before or after your data frames, and take dusk and dawn flats if desired. If appropriate for your system, it will monitor weather conditions, open and close your dome end even send email or text messages concerning significant events. CCDAutoPilot can inter-operate with other observatory control systems, either commercial or of your design, by a powerful control file facility. (Some of the above features are not available in the Basic Edition.)
New in version 5 is complete, on-the-fly editing of a session in progress. Due to the Target Database structure as a relational database with referential integrity, coupled with an almost complete rewrite for flexible performance, you can change almost anything while the session is running. The only real exception is the current exposure in progress. Let's say you are in the process of taking a series of 5 red exposures of a target. Exposure number 3 is under way and you decide you want only 4. Then simply select 4 on the session page and you will get only 4. This flexibility extends throughout CCDAutoPilot and includes session options, calibration frames, focusing and guiding options.
CCDAutoPilot provides a number of tools and wizards to tune and optimize your imaging system, establish and measure progress against goals and evaluate data taken during the session.
Given the level of complexity of these systems, initialization and configuration setup is essential for successful operation. Through this help file and other instructional material, I hope to make the transition from manual to automatic imaging as painless and enjoyable as possible. Be sure to read the Introduction to Automation as well as the rest of the Imaging Strategies topic to get the most out of automated imaging. Once you successfully make this transition, you will have a repeatable and reliable data acquisition protocol to operate your system to its greatest capability and get to sleep while all this is going on as a bonus!
If you are pleased with CCDAutoPilot5 and would like a graphic to include on your web site with your images, the below image (ap5_credit.gif) is located in the CCDAutoPilot5 program folder: