So now that you have your permanent set up in a roll-off, what do you do for automated roof control? Many of us get to that point where we can operate our equipment unattended, but we still have to be there physically to open the roof, not to mention turning on the equipment. That’s frustrating because especially if you are still working, you can’t get to the observatory often in periods of great seeing weather. I had my observatory built by Backyard Observatories, a well-respected outfit in the roll-off construction business and they had built several observatories in my area so I figured they must know what they were doing, Right? They were featuring an automated system called M1OASYS. Seemed like it was pretty cool. There were a couple of people in my area using it. I asked some people on Cloudy Nights. Yes it was “very robust”. Definitely worked according to my scientific sampling of 2 individuals. But was it worth the 2k additional to have it installed? I soon discovered that unfortunately in my case, it was NOT. The M1 Elk Gold as it is called is a well known home and business security system! Apparently for whatever reason it was modified so a roof control function could be added on. In other words, 99% of the system is designed to turn on and off lights, maybe your coffee maker, smoke alarms, shades, window and door sensors, and warn you of intruders in one of the 168 zones that it can cover. Maybe someone finds it useful to be warned of a “mouse in zone 35” or something. 1% is dedicated to astronomy related activities, like opening and closing your observatory roof! After literally months of struggling with this 1000 pound elephant, replacing ethernet adaptors that didn’t work etc, I pretty much had had it. Now I am not going to kill Backyard for failing to test their equipment. I was very happy with their construction quality. The roll-off is awesome. The warm room is terrific and the motor is going to last 100 years, but I screwed up, didn’t do my due diligence looking at my options for roof control and paid a price for it but often in life you learn from your mistakes!
Thankfully someone in the Mayhill astronomy community had a BYO roll-off installed, has an engineering background and told me about this outfit called “Foster Systems”. I looked into it. After purchasing a control board, 2 relay boards and a serial to usb adaptor, all for less than $200, it took about half a day to have a fully operational roof control system!
So that is the background to this . If you are a Backyard roll off owner or even if you are not I hope you can learn from what I learned! Perhaps you have an M1OASYS system installed and want to burn it! Now is your chance! One thing you can be happy about with the M1 install is that the wiring out of the roof motor has already been done for you so that is probably the hardest part of this project. Also the magnetic sensors have already been installed. Those can also be used. I looked at the interface for the AstroMC roof control from Foster Systems. What a breath of fresh air! I mean a button that actually says “open roof”, not a laundry list of alarms and “zones”.
I’m still putting the tutorial together but here is a short video in the meantime celebrating this milestone in remote astroimaging! Now I can go on vacations with my wife and not be upset about it!
Thanks for reading!