2019 November: Complete LRGB Tutorial of NGC292, The Small Magellanic Cloud by Christian Sasse, Astronomer in Charge of iTelescope.net
2019 September: Astro Pixel Processor and iTelescope.net celebrate a new Partnership!
iTelescope vs My Own Robo-Obsy?
I haven't tried iTelescope yet but I may soon. Who knows maybe I'll love it so much that I'll sell my equipment but I can't say until I try it. From where I sit right now 99% of the enjoyment comes from running my own equipment. That sentiment may change, I don't know.
This morning I did some calculations based on publicly available seeing conditions data for my geographic location. I was being very conservative but I still came up with 50 finished color images per year (LRGB or bi-color Narrowband with an average total integration time of 10 hours). This is an outstanding figure when compared to my actual production level of about 10 images per year!
Why the discrepancy? Well, I was being very picky about the conditions under which I setup the scope for a night of imaging. I demand near certainty of success. (No need to go into the fine details but now I see where I am going wrong.)
I've always had this dream of building a robotic observatory on my property. I truly believe that it is possible for it to operate autonomously while taking advantage of every cloud-free hour.
So questions I have for the community are:
1. Is my dream of a fully-automated, environmentally-aware observatory fact or fiction?
2. Has iTelescope lived up to your expectations?
I'm coincidently at the same stage and have the same demands for sky quality as you. I do have my own remote scope (remote being, in the garden), I could make it really remote by placing it in a nice location or so... but, that's rather difficult and when I lived in the Netherlands, it just didn't seem worth it anymore (weather and light pollution). Couple that with the fact I then lived in New Zealand for a short while with amazing skies and it was the nail in the coffin for that idea. Unfortunately. So I was thinking about going remote via a service as well. I'm now trying out iTelescope myself and can share some of my impressions;
1. It's not fiction, I personally already made a setup with Linux server on the mount and everything automated. There wouldn't have been a difference if it was in another country or my back-yard. It's not super difficult, but does require a lot of tinkering and making sure what works with what and getting it to do so in a stable manner. Either that or you buy one of the more polished commercial options (way more expensive though).
2. Yes and no, or better, yes and not yet. With APP now being integrated there, the service will get a lot better. At the moment, and in the past when I tried it, I am/was surprised by the quality of the calibration data (not good). This is about to change as far as I know. Luckily I can at least create my own darks and bias frames, so much of that I can solve myself. The interfaces are fine, maybe a bit outdated, but they work well. I don't have much to spend on it so I'm picking cheaper scopes and sometimes image when the moon is lit (up to 50%) which they give you a discount for. Also, whenever anything goes wrong, they are very easy and quick with refunding your points which is nice. It still is expensive though, especially when you want to go deep and image for hours, the cheapest scope will be around 40-50 points per hour (40-50 Dollars) when you have a lot of moon and discounts going on. It's up from there. So in that regard, I will use the service as I can pick super-fine locations wherever it is wintertime, but I won't be producing 50 projects a year (not even close).
You touched upon an important point though, 99% of the enjoyment comes from setting up your equipment, getting it tweaked, perfecting the sessions etc. That's totally missing. So yes, that would be similar with my own equipment, but it will be... my own, I set it up and if it fails... I can fix it. 🙂 I think that will, in the end, be my future as I also like that more.
Yes, so then I'd advice to think twice about selling your equipment. A service like this is a fantastic opportunity to image under skies beyond the reach of many, and to use some of the best scopes I'll never buy (so I can image some targets I will never be able to otherwise, which is nice). But it's not a great fit when tinkering is basically the thing you enjoy (with the service it's really not much more then planning the session carefully, setting up a plan and press "Go"). I use it as I also enjoy perfecting my processing skills (basically another form of tinkering), but it won't be my 100% go-to setup for producing a lot of data.
PS. For anyone reading this, this is my personal opinion ofcourse. I'm not trying to make it sound like everyone should enjoy tinkering and the rest is "too easy" and not fun, it's a personal thing.