Steve’s Place

Photography and Astrophotography

StarAid Review

I have been wanting to write a review on StarAid Revision B for a long time because there is almost nothing out there at present. But it has been a rollercoaster of a journey so far for reasons I will get on to.

Firstly, I understand this autoguiding solution is not for everyone. It is arguably more expensive and some would “rightly” say they are more than happy with their current setup up using PHD or a similar solution and I have absolutely no reason to challenge this. For me, I wanted a solution that is literally “plug n play”, no additional computer interface to drive it (if I didn’t want it), something that once powered up will begin calibration and tracking immediately completely “hands off” and moving from object to object will pick up to 20 stars and begin tracking again (and on multiple stars).

StarAid Revolution B and Splitter (photo courtesy StarAid)

The device itself comprises a Sony IMX290LL monochrome STARVIS CMOS with a QE (75%) and pixel size of 2.9µm. It is powered by a 5 volt USB-C jack either in the device itself (requiring a powered USB for interaction with the computer together with data forwarding) or a 5 volt power bank direct to the splitter for control and either controlled over the WiFi network or just let it run standalone. 

My own setup is a direct USB port connection from a pc in the observatory and then controlled remotely from the house 30m away with using Windows 10 Professional and an Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) session. I have experienced zero issues whatsoever and the connection has always remained stable and it has performed flawlessly. The splitter is used for ST4 connection to the mount. While this is literally plug & play, you can follow what is happening either by looking at the led colours on the back of the device (these can be reduced in intensity and even turned off completely) or connect to a phone/tablet or pc.  

Connecting to the device is simple as it generates it’s own WiFi network. I found it easy to connect directly through a browser while still able to access the internet as it is fully integrated onto my network.

First thing you will see once connected is the menu.

Main menu – At the bottom left, the GUIDE button is on by default and it will automatically begin calibration and guiding unless you hit STOP.

At the very top left of the screen are 3 horizontal orange bars, selecting this will bring up the setup screen as below …

Fairly self explanatory but there are some parts of this that are extremely important and NOT in the manual. Select SETTINGS
Settings menu – accessible from the 3 orange horizontal bars on the main menu

Under SETTINGS you must add your location and of course date/time which “should” provide the device with the necessary information to establish your aperture of view. One of the massive head scratching moments I had was initially using a guide scope with a 240mm focal length. The focal length was too great (at 240mm) meaning a very small field of view too small and usually less than a dozen stars in view. Reading the manual it suggested a guide scope with an ideal of around 120mm. I replaced the guide scope with a 120mm and lo and behold, the field of view did not change and appeared to be fixed at 240mm. I contacted Staraid support but sadly, this question together with several others over the year remain unanswered …. more on that later.

Guide scope – clear this field and let StarAid work out the focal length itself (and it remembers)

 It transpires, thanks to Hendrick (the designer) following a recent Q&A session through a Zoom Webinar that StarAid automatically “determines” what guide scope focal length you are using and commits that to memory. Selecting “Optics” and entering 120mm vice 240mm simply does not work !!  The solution however …. remove the entry completely leaving the field blank. Restart the device and it will automatically detect and establish the correct focal length. Happy days and I can confirm this was one problem cracked !!!

Back on the Main menu page you have a whole list of other options. “Liveview” is excellent making it an absolute breeze to adjust focus …. I have heard to slightly defocus to help with “Sky Recognition”, the jury is still out on that one as this currently remains unresolved.

“ObjectGuiding” is another feature where it will automatically find and centre on currently 33 different comets. This is outstanding, as it will actually track the comets movement so you will capture the comet and without any star trailing …

Object guiding and Comet selection – be aware some of these are in the southern hemisphere

Hendrick did mention on his recent Webinar that he had been asked about “ISS” tracking but acknowledged that a lot of portable mounts might not be able to track at this speed and therefore it is an option he has not progressed. There are also options for Polar Alignment and Telescope alignment but to get to this stage you will need an accurate “Sky Recognition” first of all and herein a new problem has arisen that I cannot crack at this time. No matter what I do I cannot get the Sky Recognition to work, it fails every single time even pointing at various locations in the sky. I have tried to defocus/refocus the StarAid, gone from auto gain settings to manual, rotated the StarAid to match the correct orientation of the night sky and still no success even though there are over 50 stars in view. Until I hear back from StarAid support on this then I cannot comment further at this stage …. I do hope to update this thread though once Staraid support respond and provide me with a working solution and I am also using the latest software release of 1.9.2 (released on 19 October 2021)

However, how does the autoguiding perform ?

At switch on, the StarAid automatically defaults to calibration as so ….

Auto guiding – automatic calbration routine

It will attempt to firstly find enough stars (set at 20 max) and calibrate each axis before guiding commences on “multiple stars”. This takes around 30 seconds to approx 1 minute depending on seeing conditions and worked well even close to a 70% moon …

Autoguiding in progress – this is brilliant !!

Well, it looks good in theory, but how does it work in practice and even more so on a main telescope with a relatively long focal length ?

This is a 600 second (iso1600) raw capture of M1 (Crab Nebula) taken last night using a SkyWatcher Equinox ED120 (900mm) and an astro modified Canon 6D as the imaging device …

This image is absolutely untouched and I am extremely happy with the star shapes. To be honest, this is the very first time I have taken an exposure at this length (10 minutes).

So, what are my thoughts ….

Am I happy ?  Absolutely delighted and the simplicity of how it works. It really is “setup and go”. This would make life so much easier for those having portable setups out in the field. The functionality is brilliant although for reasons already stated on “Sky Recognition”, I am unable to take advantage of these until this has been resolved  (watch this space).

The bad news, I was so not wanting to go here but I’m afraid it needs to be said.  I have raised several “support tickets” over the year, so have many others and most of these have not been responded to whatsoever. Consequently, I have not been able to progress until literally a few days ago thanks to a StarAid Webinar provided by Christian and Hendrick (where I, together with over a dozen other owners) were able to ask questions directly and get an immediate response/resolve. StarAid intends on running more webinars and to be fair, I understand it may only be a few people on tech support and I guess they are snowed under. It is still very frustrating though when it might only be a simple solution required. I am seriously hoping this changes or ….. when is the next webinar ??  

I have heard some comments from astro enthusiasts stating that StarAid is still in “beta”. A little unfair as it is much more advanced than that but there are complexities involved that the manual absolutely does not go anywhere near and it does perhaps reveal the need for other users to share any problems they might have encountered and the solutions they discovered resolve it. It needs a “user base” so we might assist the developers best we can. Perhaps a forum to capture Q&A that we can follow.

Would I buy this again knowing the problems I was going to encounter – probably yes. I am forever the optimist and if the Sky Recognition is just a simple fix then oh wow, it really will open up a load more guiding opportunities. And as it autonomously runs in the background this will be ideal for STEM presentations as it is one less window I need to enlarge on the screen.

One thing I must mention, this is not “yet” a GoTo solution. While the device itself performs plate solving through Sky Recognition and once recognised will provide true coordinates, that solution must be entered manually into EqMod or easier … just nudge the mount controls. This is something that is being looked into though. My own solution will be to have the guide scope and main telescope in absolute perfect alignment which would hopefully mean any pointing accuracy adjustments would be minor or even unnecessary.

These are just a few musings especially following last night which was a big breakthrough for me following the StarAid Webinar a few days ago. 

There is also a DSLR “Image Capture” function on the Rev B but I use BYEos as I use multiple cameras and I thoroughly enjoy BYEos.

I have written this to help others who may be looking for a users experience on StarAid, what it can do well and things to look out for. I am absolutely NOT stating this is the best thing since sliced bread and I have been honest and  impartial in my own findings thus far. I do hope to update this once the Sky Recognition (Plate Solving) has been addressed. It might literally be another case of simply going into “settings” and entering/removing something but I just don’t know.

Best wishes everyone and please keep safe.

Steve

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