The Components of a Robotic Telescope System
A robotic telescope system must provide integrated control for a telescope mount and a CCD camera. The following components are needed for a basic robotic telescope system.
Scriptable telescope mount
The telescope must be able to point to an arbitrary RA and DEC to within 1 or 2 minutes of arc. The telescope must be able to track to within a few seconds of arc for periods of a few seconds up to at least a few minutes. The telescope must be able to move without wrapping any attached cables around the telescope mount. The telescope must be able to successfully move through "trouble spots" on the sky. For example, the telescope must be able to move across the meridian, through or near the zenith, and near the celestial pole without getting lost or causing any damage to equipment or cables. The telescope must know the horizon limits for the mount and must not cause any damage to the telescope or to any equipment while moving near the horizon. The telescope must be able to move to a safe home position from any position and under any circumstances.
Sriptable CCD camera
It must be possible to control or specify the settings for the camera. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, camera temperature and exposure time. It must be possible to take dark exposures. For color work, and most scientific work, it must be possible to control the position of a filter wheel or filter slide. It must be possible to save images and to recover images at a later time.
Given such a system, a "script" could be developed for an observing run on a particular night. The observing run itself could then be entirely automated. An observer would need to be present at the observatory to start up the system and to verify that the system is functioning correctly. The script could then be started. At the end of the run, an observer at the observatory would need to bring down the system and close the observatory. This can be termed "dumb mode" operation for a robotic telescope.
For a true remote access system, a control program must be available to provide a number of additional capabilities. Such a system would need to have the following capabilities.
Provision for power on/off
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