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TheSkyX Pro for Linux and Raspberry Pi - Oh My!
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

I might seem a bit maniacal in this blog post... but I'm pretty jazzed.

Well, it is official. Finally. TheSkyX Pro is now available for 64-bit Ubuntu Linux and Raspberry Pi, and it's available to anyone not only with a Universal Subscription, but also the Multi-OS and Six License Add On. This means if you purchased a Paramount mount in the last five years or so, you can download it now (assuming your subscription is up to date...we need to eat you know <g>).

This is very exciting. It means TheSky is available on virtually every computing platform that matters. Windows, macOS, Linux, mobile, and embedded (I'm considering the Pi an embedded platform for reasons I'll explain shortly). And it can be automated/scripted over the network with an industry standard cross platform scripting language (JavaScript)... and hopefully there will be another blog one day with a LOT more to talk about along these lines... (muahahah).

Let that sink in.... TheSkyX is everywhere... do the math ;-)

This is a substantial milestone in a broader vision to make TheSky a ubiquitous imaging platform. Linux is the cornerstone for a number of institutional customers, and the Raspberry Pi is the foundation of what will become "SkyBox", an embedded version of TheSky where the "computer disappears". With these latest releases, you can now build a low cost imaging control system that is robust, reliable, and that you can "leave alone" and it will work for years. No more OS updates that turn off your USB ports after twenty minutes of imaging. No more resetting of the update parameters causing a reboot in the middle of the night during your imaging run for "important updates". No more OS updates that require all new USB driver updates.

If you are a serious and frequent imager, you can (and should) dedicate a computer to imaging. Friends ask me what kind of laptop or desktop they should get for their imaging. Listen... unless you're going to run PixInsight on the same box, you don't need a quad core killer game machine to take images and guide. My observatory is run by a Raspberry Pi 3 that cost less than $100.00 total in parts, draws only 500ma, and it works every time I turn it on. Done.

If you image with a DSLR, it has a computer built into it. Do you check email on it? Do you surf the web? Play games? No, a DSLR is a device for imaging (don't get me started on phones - ha ha). In the same way your imaging system can just be an imaging system. "I upgraded to El Capitain and all my USB devices don't work"... why did you update? Because it's a new OS, and it's my laptop and it had features I ... blah blah blah... Now, you can have a small cheap Linux box (doesn't have to be a Pi) that runs your imaging session and THAT'S ALL. Don't freak'n touch it unless you're updating your imaging software. I've been imaging for two years now on Ubuntu using a $99.00 netbook. It's cheap, it's disposable... it's RELIABLE. This is the future, and it starts today. Modern desktop operating systems seem to be geared towards nothing more than helping you shop faster, or stay entertained all the time. If you want to get real work done... I think you can see my point.

All this grandiose posturing aside (hey, I know what I am <g>), there are going to be some growing pains. There's a over hundred man-years behind TheSkyX now, but the garden of a new OS is going to have some rocks that need to be found and removed. I've been using these releases myself regularly, I can self-accomodate and forget quickly about something that seems to me to be only slightly annoying, but to an end user "makes the whole thing useless". So, I'll be listening, and working, and there will likely be frequent updates for a while... but we are on the road, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about where we are going. There are still some very big pieces of the puzzle to be completed, but baby, we are a rolling!

So, Daniel has put together a quick start guide, but I'll repeat some of it here. The single most popular and important question anyone has is what devices are supported with the first update. So, here's a breakdown of the currently working and vetted devices.

Serial Devices:
KeySpan, Prolific, and FTDI USB to Serial Adapters. These can be used for mounts and focusers that use a 9-pin serial connection.

All Paramounts (duh). Both direct USB, and WiSky Wifi connections.
TheSkyX natively supported mounts. Any mount natively supported by TheSkyX "should" work with a serial or TCP/IP (or WiFi to serial). I expect most of the rocks in the garden to be here.

Finger Lakes Instruments
Starlight Xpress
SBIG (Ubuntu only, no Raspberry Pi yet, sorry)

Filter Wheels:
Finger Lakes Instruments
Starlight Xpress
QSI (Embedded)

Finger Lakes Instruments
Optec FocusLynx
Feather Touch (same controller as above really)
Moonlite NiteCrawler
Officina Stellare RotoFocus

Moonlight NiteCrawler
Officina Stellare RotoFocus 

There are more devices in the pipeline. ATIK support for example almost made the first release but for a few minor snags (I expect them to make the first "next daily build"). I should point out that without exception all of the vendors above have been active and helpful in getting this support in. ZWO even wrote the entire plug-in! Other vendors are also currently working with me, so hopefully we'll see some other updates soon. For focusers, etc. that are just plain serial devices, they "should" be easy to add, it just being a matter of spending the time on them, and testing them. The biggest missing item from my personal arsenal is DSLR support. There is no "official" support for DSLR's on Linux, but there are some ways around this. I would not expect DSLR support to be super soon, but it's not a lost cause down the road. For now, however I can at least setup guiding with a Raspberry Pi using an iPad, and then use an intervalometer to take images with one of my Canon's; this is a pretty workable workflow.

Enough blathering, I still have a lot of work to do...


Posted 12-14-2016 7:00 AM by Richard Wright


Rod wrote re: Linux and Raspberry Pi - Oh My!
on 12-22-2016 11:06 AM

Outstanding, Richard!! I've been (patiently?) waiting a development like this involving the Pi3, but certainly didn't expect this much functionality on first announcement.  I use an SBIG camera/filter wheel/autoguider, so I'll still have to wait for a while.  But you've already covered my P-MX mount and FBII focuser, so for me you're 2/3's of the way there.

I have an older Pi2 and a pair of Pi3's for Linux learning and beginner development, so I'm definitely in your target audience.

Quick question: how does TSX user interface connect to the Pi3?  Or are you saying TSX now runs ON the Pi3, and that TSX is now on the Raspbian GUI Desktop?  The little Pi3 has the oomph to run a near-real-time GUI like TSX?

Scott Denning wrote re: Linux and Raspberry Pi - Oh My!
on 12-23-2016 12:03 PM

This is really wonderful news!  

Now hoping to see a corresponding major update to the iOS app TheSkyXHD soon that allows full control of imaging runs, guiding, autofocusing, dithering, mount flip, sky flats, etc via control of the embedded Raspberry Pi version of TheSkyX.

Mark Scrivener wrote re: TheSkyX Pro for Linux and Raspberry Pi - Oh My!
on 01-03-2017 3:12 PM

This is fantastic news Richard! And just in time - standard desktop OS's are quickly becoming unworkable for imaging control with forced updates, automatic restarts, and settings that magically revert to factory preferences.

Thanks to everyone at SB who made this happen. Now we just need a high level automation capability (like CCD Commander, or CCD Autopilot) so we don't have to resort to Javascript for automation.




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