DIY Autoguider (Part 2: Setting-up the Guiding Software)

This page is being updated to reflect the current changes and upgrades in my setup. I am now using other alternatives such as a GPUSB or an Arduino as a means to establish communication between the telescope and the mount since the parallel port (the port used in the original version of this DIY) is now becoming obsolete.

WARNING: I assume no responsibility for any damage caused to your equipment by following the information presented here. Please proceed with caution and follow instructions at you own risk.

I this part, we will setup four things:

  • the guiding software (PHD2) and the appropriate settings
  • the GPUSB driver
  • the web camera’s driver
  • check whether the GPUSB and the guide connects without problem when used together in the guiding software

(Note: I will write a separate article on how to use an Arduino instead of the GPUSB.)

1. The guiding software that we will use is the PHD2 Guiding. Most of the settings are left to their default values, but some values specific to your setup must be entered, and in some cases, experimenting with some other values is recommended to achieve best results.

PHD2_guidescope
Click the ‘brain’ icon to access the Advance Settings tab. In the Global tab, enter the focal length of your guidescope.
PHD2_calibration
At the start of a guiding session, PHD2 Guiding attempts to determine how well your mount responds when given a set of instructions to move east and move west (a process called calibration). Adjust the ‘calibration step’ until you find a value that works for your setup. Alternatively, you may use the ‘Calculate’ button for help. The Maximum Duration pertains to the maximum length (in milliseconds) of each guide pulse. It is recommended to conduct some experiment with your setup to find the most appropriate values.
PHD2_delay
If you are using a modified camera, find a delay value that works with camera.

2. Autoguiding requires a means for a computer to send guiding signals to a telescope’s mount. For most mounts, especially the entry-level ones, a separate device can be used to enable the computer ‘talk’ to the mount—an example of which is a USB Guide Port Interface or GPUSB.

Install the GPUSB ASCOM Driver to allow guiding programs to recognize the GPUSB hardware. Install also the diagnostic tool called GPUSBCheck (to check if the GPSUSB works properly).

GPUSBCheck
Connect the GPUSB to the computer using the USB port and then run GPUSBCheck. Click Connect in the main menu. If the GPUSB works as intended, it should return the message “GPUSB adapter found!” You can then play with the buttons and the GPUSB should respond accordingly.

3. Install the camera’s driver. In this setup, I will be using a Logitech 4000 web camera. It comes with an installation CD which contains all the necessary drivers for the webcam. Drivers for most recent operating systems can be found here.

Logitech 4000 installation disc

 

4. Test whether the guide camera and the GPUSB work together in PHD2 Guiding.

PHD2_camera_gpusb
Click the Camera Icon to access the Equipment tab and then select in the drop-down menu “Long exposure Serial webcam” as the camera and GPUSB as the mount.

 

PHD2_camera_settings
Set the guide camera’s settings by clicking the settings icon, and then select the appropriate port where your camera is connected. Other settings are usually left to default values, but you may need to change some of them depending on how your camera was modified.
PHD2_connected
Click the Connect icon for the Camera and the Mount. PhD2 Guiding will attempt to establish a connection with camera and the mount. You will know that a successful connection is established when the buttons change to “Disconnect” (also a status is displayed on the lower left corner of the PHD2 Guiding window.) Click Close.
PHD_loop.jpg
Click the loop icon (green) to begin guiding. Adjust the guide camera exposure in the drop-down menu if necessary. To exit, click Stop.

In my next post, I will describe how to connect the GPUSB to a telescope, through the ST-4 port or an improvised DIY port through the hand controller (if the mount has no ST-4 autoguider port).

UPDATED (January 2016): This post has been updated to eliminate the need for a parallel port, which is now becoming obsolete.

Related articles:
DIY Autoguider (Part 1: Introduction)
DIY Autoguider (Part 2: Setting-up the Guiding Software)
DIY Autoguider (Part 3: Wiring Diagrams)
DIY Autoguider (Part 4: Autoguiding and Polar Alignment)

For tutorials on how to get started with astrophotography, click here.
For DIY astronomy projects useful for astrophotography, click here.

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© Anthony Urbano (Manila, Philippines)

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6 thoughts on “DIY Autoguider (Part 2: Setting-up the Guiding Software)

  1. Really Nice and helpfull article, I was searching for “How to turn ON or OFF my Room Bulb with my Desktop or Laptop” but I don’t really know which hardware part is used to do this. I’m a software developer and now I want to communicate with Hardware.
    Can You Please Help Me?

    • Hi! A parallel port (like the one used here) interfaced with a few relays could easily perform that task for you. If it is a project that will output pulses to a parallel port, then I *might* be able to help. But then again parallel ports are now obsolete and is no longer a standard port in new laptop computers. There are now kits available that will allow you to interface a computer with a hardware, usually through the USB. It usually in a form of a box-type hardware that will serve as a computer-controlled switchboard, to turn on and off your device. Good luck!

  2. Excelente explicación , muy didáctica y simple, me gustaría que me diga como hacerlo con opto-acopladores , cuales serian ? y como hacerlo para el eje de Declinación también ( D+ y D- ) . como hacerlo para el USB de mi netbook ? Gracias Frank

    • I used a translator for this comment:
      “Excellent explanation, very educational and simple, I’d like you to tell me how to do it with opto-couplers, would they be? and how to do it for too Declination axis (D + and D-). how to do it for my netbook USB? Thanks Frank”

      Thanks Frank! Opto-couplers usually have 4 pins. Two of which power the internal ‘LED’, and the other 2 pins serve as the terminals for the switch. You may consult data sheets on the Internet for more info re: the pin layout of specific types of opto-couplers. For the declination axis, basically, the process is the same. You will need to connect 2 more pairs of LDRs to the buttons in the hand controller that correspond to the declination movement. You also need to tell the software that you wish to activate the declination guiding by altering the settings (just a matter of assigning pins). Regarding the USB interface, I am afraid this solution only works with parallel port.

      Well in any case, error in declination is best addressed with proper polar alignment instead of guiding :)

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