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).
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.
At the very top left of the screen are 3 horizontal orange bars, selecting this will bring up the setup screen as below …
Under SETTINGS you must add your location (within 20km ….. if you don’t get within 20km then you WILL experience problems with Sky Recogntion) 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.
It transpires, thanks to Hendrick (the designer) after 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 !!! This does need adding to the user manual.
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.
“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 …
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 Hendrick did mention on his recent Webinar that he had been asked about “ISS” tracking but acknowledged that a lot of mounts would not be able to track at this speed and therefore 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 firstly need an accurate “Sky Recognition”. Initially, I struggled to get the Sky Recognition to work, it failed every single time even pointing at various locations in the sky. I 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. It was only after today’s webinar when the magic words were spoken by Hendrik. Your home location must be accurate to within 20km maximum. Thankfully, Filey UK was listed which is about 2km away. Selecting this and everything is now spot on. The latest software release of 1.9.2 (released on 19 October 2021) has improved algorithms for Sky Recognition.
However, how does the autoguiding perform ?
At switch on, the StarAid automatically defaults to calibration as so ….
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 …
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 …
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 and it truly is plug & play. One point was mentioned in the webinar which I found interesting. When attempting a polar alignment, absolutely perfect is not required. It is actually better to leave a “little error” because the tracking at 5 corrections per second provides the mount with something to work on and will make for smoother guiding eliminating and “dead spots” / potential pauses in the tracking.
The bad news, I will mention this briefly but recent events have TOTALLY solved this. A lot of users have opened trouble tickets and are still awaiting results even after a year. Personally, I think Hendrick and his small team have been absolutely inundated and have struggled to keep up. This is understandable especially during covid times. However, Christian Sasse has started running webinars with Hendrick over Zoom with an opportunity to raise questions which are answered at the end of the session. This has been an absolute game changer and it works perfectly.
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. I will try and document any problems I find with a potential solution to help others on the forums.
As StarAid autonomously runs in the background this will be ideal for my 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.
One thing that did come out of todays Webinar was Hendrick is testing a new software patch that will allow you the StarAid to connect to two WiFi networks at the same time. ie direct connect to the StarAid device itself (from either pc/tablet/phone) and a second connection to the internet. Now this confused me because I already have this in my setup as I can remotely control the StarAid over a Remote Desktop session.
Best wishes everyone and please keep safe.