Rowland's Astro Blog

Part 3: Voyager’s RoboTarget Manager

Rowland is a member of the Voyager team with the role of Voyager Evangelist.  The information in this blog post is based on pre-beta software installed in early 2022.  The final release will almost certainly have changes based on beta testing feedback.

Overview

RoboTarget is Voyager Advanced’s automated scheduler.  In real time, it chooses an appropriate target to run from a database of targets you create, using constraints you add to control when a target can be imaged.  In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the RoboTarget Manager, which is the user interface you use to create entries for each target you would like to shoot.

 

RoboTarget Manager Startup and Organization

RoboTarget is Voyager Advanced’s automated scheduler.  In real time, it chooses an appropriate target to run from a database of targets you create, using constraints you add to control when a target can be imaged.  In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the RoboTarget Manager, which is the user interface you use to create entries for each target you would like to shoot.

There are a couple of ways to bring up the RoboTarget Manager.  You can click RoboTarget from the Section tab, and then click the RoboTarget Manager button that appears in the RoboTarget section:

You could also add a shortcut to the VoyagerRoboTargetManager.exe program file in the Voyager program directory and run it from there.

Finally, you can run the RoboTarget Manager on a different PC than the one that runs Voyager to control your scope, connect to the remote PC and remotely manage the target database that resides there.  We’ll take a look at that in a later blog post.

RoboTarget Manager starts with an icon showing the Voyager instance to which it has connected.  


Click that icon and you’ll get a list of the profiles on that machine, with the active profile outlined in red:

Under the profile are one or more “base sequences” associated with the targets you have defined for the profile, and the disk drive icon, in this case labeled RGB Test, which expands to a set of one or more targets.

Base sequences define the actions to take when running a target, except for the overrides that are contained in the target definition.  Think of the base sequence as the starting point for how you want to shoot a target.  Every target definition includes a base sequence.  A set of targets can all use the same base sequence, or you can define multiple base sequences and attach them to the targets in any way you like. 

Target definitions include at a minimum the target name, coordinates, and shot definitions (e.g. XX shots of YY seconds with ZZ filter, etc.).  It may also include constraints that override the base sequence such as minimum target altitude, position angle, min and max start times, and more.

The blue question mark icon to the left of the target name indicates that the data has not yet been loaded for that target.  Click on a target and it expands to show the shots defined for that target.

Each shot definition includes the same items that would be in a “shot slot” in a Voyager Basic sequence.  Filter, number of exposures, length, binning, gain, offset, etc.

It’s worth taking a little time to decide how you would like to use the Set of Targets grouping feature.  You can group targets in any way you like – think of it as a folder that has no intrinsic properties other than grouping targets together.  However – and this is a big – you can enable or disable all the targets in a set with one click in the Set of Targets folder definition.  

You can have multiple sets enabled at once, but think through the scenarios you plan to image and try to leverage this ability to save having to enable and disable individual targets in the future.  The more targets in your database, the more you’ll appreciate this feature.

Some of the options that came to mind – and I’m sure you will come up with more – include:

1. Group by filters used – RGB, LRGB, HLRGB, SHO, HO.  I kind of like this one because it would let me use one base sequence for each target set, and enable or disable groups of targets based on the moon phase to save RoboTarget from even considering them.

2. Group by target type – Galaxy, Planetary Nebula, Globular Cluster, etc.    This has a nice feelilng about it and to a degree, also infers the filters used.

3. Group by season – Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.   I like the idea of turning off sets of targets that simply won’t be visible that night.  However there are targets that are visible in two seasons so I would want to either duplicate them or move them as the seasons change.

If you decide that you would prefer to just add a few active targets that you know “should” run to the database, this choice of how to group them is less important.  However, I like to add a lot of targets to the database – it becomes my “wish list” – so the organization choice is worth some pondering.

Now that we’ve looked at how targets are organized by the RoboTarget Manager, let’s actually add a target.

 

Adding a New Target

To add a new target, right click on the Set of Targets icon of the set to which you want to add the target.

This opens a context menu.  Select Add New Target (and note that from that right-click menu, you could also enable or disable all targets in that group, reload the data from the RoboTarget database, or remove the target).  

You can also copy and paste an existing target, with or without its associated shots, by right clicking the target.

Part 2: Voyager Advanced Overview

Rowland is a member of the Voyager team with the role of Voyager Evangelist.  The information in this blog post is based on pre-beta software installed in early 2022.  The final release will almost certainly have changes based on beta testing feedback.

Overview

Voyager Advanced adds automated target scheduling to Voyager.  

With Advanced, your imaging workflow looks like this:

At any time:

  1. Add a target you want to the database
  2. Specifying how many and what type (filter, exposure, etc.) of shots you want to  accumulate
  3. Add constraints for when Voyager Advanced may shoot that target – minimum altitude, moon phase, moon distance, etc.

Image Acquisition Time:

  1. EITHER Run your DragScript that includes a call to RoboTarget to find and shoot targets
  2. OR Click “RoboTarget Run” in the RobotTarget panel after connecting your gear 

The “Run your DragScript” option lets you simply start Voyager with your DragScript as a parameter and everything will happen automatically.  Do a little configuration work with the Windows task scheduler and you can have a perpetually automated observatory that will open up and work on your target list every time your weather observation device indicates it is safe to do so.

The fact that you can add a target at any time is very powerful.  See something you like on Astrobin?  Start up RoboTarget Manager and add it to your list.  Reading Astronomy or Sky & Telescope and see a great image?  Add it with RoboTarget Manager and when the time is right, Voyager Advanced will shoot it!  No more scratching your head and trying to remember that cool nebula you saw a couple months ago – just add them to your RoboTarget database as soon as you see it.  No more forehead slaps when you realize that galaxy you wanted to shoot is already setting just after dusk.  If it’s in the database, RoboTarget will remember for you, and shoot it when the time is right. 

With Voyager Advanced, your role is to choose targets and process captured data.  Voyager’s role is to get the data you want and do it at the best time.  It’s like having an intelligent assistant who runs your observatory.  You tell them what you want, they do the rest.  And they don’t complain about the pay or the cold nights!

 

First Things First - Get Voyager Basic Running

Before using RoboTarget, the Voyager automated scheduler, you should get Voyager working with your equipment and successfully running Voyager sequences.  This includes connecting to your gear, autofocus, plate solving, guiding, integration with your dome and safety monitors if you have them and of course, taking shots!.  In short, you should have Voyager up and running so you could image all night without problems.  Only then should you proceed to setting up RoboTarget, the name of Voyager’s automated scheduler.

If you are an experienced imager who has done these things before, it shouldn’t take long.  Leo provides personal support through the official Voyager support channels should you need help.  

Everything you need to run RoboTarget is already installed with Voyager version 2.3.4j or later.  If you are upgrading from Voyager Basic to Advanced, you will receive a new license file.  Install it from the Resources -> License panel and the Voyager Advanced features will be revealed and you can get started: