MEADE AUTOSTAR UPDATINGUsing your computer to maximize your GO TO potential
Clay Sherrod, ASO
The process of uploading new Meade Autostar firmware via a user's PC or a direct Internet link to Meade is one area that bothers many persons who have yet to do an upload..... and truly one where mistakes can be made. First of all, if the procedure is not followed properly mistakes can be made in both the download from the Meade website to your personal PC or telescope if linked directly for an upgrade OR it may be that the "latest and greatest" release of telescope firmware for the ETX, LXD55, LX 90 or LX 200/600/850 GPS telescopes may, indeed, turn out to not be the saving grace it was thought to be.
Thus, I would urge Meade telescope who have the sudden urge to rush out and quickly upgrade to the first mention of a new Autostar firmware:
1) Are you sure the new version is fit? hold off a few days prior to uploading to make certain that everything is "right" with the new version of firmware each time it is issued; it is never a surprise when Meade suddenly comes right back and issues a "newer corrective" firmware package because of bugs that were unknown when that last issue was made public. If the version has been "out" for some time, by all means do NOT hesitate to upgrade.
2. Do you really NEED to upgrade? Read very carefully the "Read Me" file or consult the many Yahoo! groups that concentrate on Meade telescopes and their uses....many upgrades of new firmware may NOT be of any advantage to your particular type of telescope! If, for example, you are using a German equatorially mounted LXD55 and the latest software address problems encountered with wire wrapping with the fork mounted LX 200, then why upgrade? If your existing firmware is working fine for you, then stick with it!
3. Make sure that you know HOW to upgrade and you have the proper TOOLS to pull it off. In all telescopes you will be required to connect your telescope via a computer cable of some type to your PC or MAC; make sure that you are using the Meade-supplied cable or its tested equivalent....never use any cable that you are not absolutely sure will connect properly for communication between scope and computer.
In addition, there will eventually come a time when even experienced Autostar users may wish to edit their comets, satellites, tours, user objects, or asteroid data, a process that is now made incredibly simple (and fun!!) via Meade newest uploading programs that you can place right on your desktop for easy access.
MEADE UPLOADING PROGRAMS (ASU and StarPatch)
To upload you need two things:
1) you need the upload cable set from Meade (or equivalent....these can be home-made but make SURE the pin-out cable configuration is exactly correct!); and,
2) you need to put the ASU 4.6 or later Autoload program on your PC with a desktop icon for use. It is located at: http://www.meade.com/support/ (for this existing and long-lasting version of Meade's Autostar Updater program); to store the file on your PC requires a bit of time to upload via the Internet; it is self-extracting and thus you do not need to do anything to it to get it to work on your machine.
Unless you change the defaults this self-extracting program will install itself under the folder "Meade" on your main "C" drive (or designated drive) of the Program Files. In that folder are found many sub-folders and files, only one of which is used for upgrading firmware, the BUILD ROM files, found in the sub-folder "EPHEMERIDES."
Once you have installed the ASU Autoloader onto your PC, it is there ready for you to use at any time. In addition to allowing the connecting point between your telescope and constant new and innovative Meade updates for driving and controlling your telescope, it will serve as a very convenient and quick method to install the very latest data in comets, asteroids, tours, special "user Objects" (your choice that can be arranged in any fashion you choose) and other data for GO TO operation via your telescope keypad.
FIRMWARE: The "Build ROM Files"
To upgrade your Autostar version for ANY of the Meade GO TO telescopes that are capable of upgrading (ETX 90, 105, 125, LX 90, LXD55s, and the LX200 GPS scopes) you will need to install the current (or user preferred) firmware. These packages are available by downloading from the Meade Updater site at:
http://www.meade.com/support/auto.html . When newly-released firmware for any of these telescopes is either reported to be or appears to be "buggy", I make a point to check this site often for updates; Meade does not announce pending releases of revised firmware.
Once issued, the user needs to only upload the new version (there are always three basic firmware applications: one for Autostar 497, also for the "talking Audiostar", and another for Autostar II, the latter which is only used for the LX 200 GPS, LX600, LX850 and RCX400 telescope line) and save to file on the PC; a double click on the Meade Support site will open the file and ask which area and name you wish to save the file to....those who want to stay "active" in updates should develop a stand-alone folder in which all updates, past and present, can be uploaded and saved.
Why save the old version if a new one seems better? Many times users will upload a new version ever-too-quickly only to find out it is buggy and operational systems do not work as planned....it is always good to have the "old one" saved to file to resort to if need be.
IMPORTANT: Uploading the new firmware does NOT automatically install this into the ASU....that is something that you must do before you an upload your Autostar to the latest version...the steps are described below. Actually there are TWO parts to updating the drivers for Meade telescopes using Autostar firmware: you need the ASU Updater to serve as the communication link and editor for your Autostar, and you need the software (the "version") to upload through the ASU Updater, i.e., the BUILD ROM files. You cannot load new firmware onto your Autostar without ASU being installed first....even if you chose to upload via the Internet and not save the ROM files to your own folders.
STEP-BY-STEP ASU UPDATER UPLOADING PROCEDURE
( Installing ASU on your computer )
Typically Meade does NOT change the ASU Automated uploader program too often. The current version is always found at: http://www.meade.com/support/auto.html . This should be double-clicked which will activate it to download onto your computer files. The entire program has multiple files under the Heading "MEADE", with a sub-folder entitled "ASU" which can be opened to reveal even more files. The entire batch is totally self-extracting and will be ready for use once uploaded.
To update new firmware as it is issued will require you to OPEN the ASU program (typically located under PROGRAM FILES on the main drive (typically "C") of your computer).
To update comets, asteroids, satellites and tours, you can either go to the directory:
Program files/Meade/ASU/Ephemerides/....and then access the individual files for those object and replace in the entirety OR, you can much more simply and quickly edit those files either totally or in part via the "Advanced Options" button on the Updater screen that you open on your PC.
The ASU allows the capabilities:
1) uploading new firmware
2) editing the user object library (comets, asteroids, satellites, user objects, tours)
3) adding and deleting NEW user objects as necessary such as newly discovered comets or updated satellite passes for YOUR locations
4) Editing the data on your Handbox (under "Tools") so that you can enter your owner information as well as precise site locations and names.
STEP-BY-STEP FIRMWARE UPLOADING PROCEDURE
( Installing BUILD ROM files direct to the Autostar or to your computer )
When it is time to upload new operating firmware for your telescope, first go to the Meade Internet site to: http://www.meade.com/support/auto/BuildLX.zip (that is for the present v4.2d version for the LX telescope Autostar II); double-clicking on the current version will automatically save this to any file IN ZIP format that you designate (once you have saved any one version to a certain file, it typically will default to that file each time upon new uploads); I have created a file on my computer's "C-drive" named "AstroPrograms" which takes all these uploads; once there, it is a good idea to keep it there for a while or perhaps put them in a separate (i.e., CD) storage file. Most of the firmware programs are ZIP files that must be unzipped and saved to the same folder once you have downloaded from Meade website. Then open up that file and identify the BUILD ROM file.
Like many people you may wish to keep both ROM BUILD files for both the Autostar 497 as well as the Autostar II; if so, then you can RE-NAME each file suitably for your own identification; to use the ASU Updater however does not "require" you to do this as it will correctly identify the proper Autostar/telescope you have connected and match with the proper firmware upon each upload. In other words, there can be no chance of improperly loading data for Autostar II on an ETX Autostar for example....the ASU will always recognize your handbox and default properly.
For the firmware to be loaded onto your telescope/Autostar, that BUILD ROM file must be transferred from where you saved it INTO the ASU Autoloader....it does not get there by itself after you have obtained it and uploaded to your computer.
To place new firmware files to your ASU Autoloader (we are NOT loading to the telescope at this point!), follow these steps:
1) Open up the file in which you stored the current firmware version (i.e., v4.2d) and minimize the screen so that you can open a second window;
2) Now go to your "My Computer" icon and open up your files to Program Files; under Program Files, there will be one likely entitled "MEADE"; that
is your ASU Updater program which contains many files;
3) Ignore and do NOT open any of these files except the one entitled "Ephemerides"; double click that one and you will see 6-7 folders in that file....one of those is "BUILD LX" (when you first load up the ASU updater program you may NOT have the BUILD LX file present...look for it. If not there, then proceed;
4) If there IS a BUILD LX file (as there would be if you already had used the ASU at least once), then you must click on that file and DELETE it (or save it back into your "AstroPrograms" folder in case you might want to go back to it....it does happen!).
5) Once any existing BUILD LX file is deleted then it is time to update the Ephemerides with your NEW firmware (i.e., 4.2d); you can do this by copy and
pasting from the AstroPrograms file into the ASU/Ephemeride file or by "dragging and dropping" across both screens which you should have showing simultaneously on your screen at this time.
6) Once done, confirm by checking (right click the mouse) Properties and see if it is the latest or most current date.....if so, then you are done.
7) Back out of the Program Files and your "C" drive files for AstroPrograms.
8) Now open up the ASU uploader by double clicking the ASU icon on your desktop; you will want to click the main button entitled "Advanced Functions" at this point;
...now you are ready to install the firmware into the telescope or handbox.....
9) Link the telescope to the Serial or USB port on your computer per instructions on the cable set and do NOT connect the two via the "DOWNLOAD/connect" command on Autostar;
10) Initialize your telescope as normal, bypassing the GPS fix by pressing MODE as soon as you see the GPS fix indicator come up...get past all
initialization until you see: "Setup/Align";
11) At that point, go back to your PC Autostar ASU updater screen which you have opened up to "Advanced Functions" and press the "Connect" button at
upper right; the computer will search out the correct COM port, or USB and attempt to open communication with the telescope. When it does, you will
see your existing old version in the lower right corner. If you DO NOT see a version, then you have not connected!
12) Once that version is shown, merely press "Upgrade Autostar Now" button at the top left; and several boxes will appear;
13) First will tell you what version you have and what version is stored in your PC....click LOCAL to upload from the PC; I also prefer to click "Erase
User Banks" to completely start fresh and purge the system of all old data. You will need to re-enter location, date, time and user-defined defaults.
Uploading takes less than one-half hour. DO NOT get in a rush....if it appears that nothing is happening, then go off and have a favorite beverage. At the end of that I recommend going through the initialization and then going to SETUP/Reset/Enter (twice) after which you will need to re-enter your site data and other information.
STEP-BY-STEP EDITING OF COMETS, ASTEROIDS, SATELLITES, TOURS
(updating new objects via the ASU updater screen on your PC)
1. Deleting objects from the Autostar Library -
Merely open up the ASU on your PC and press "Advanced Functions." Click the object type (i.e, comet....) and the list will appear; click on the object(s) you wish to delete and press your "Delete" key at which time you will be asked if you are sure....click enter and the object is gone. You must go to FILE/Save and save this change as you must on all data editing on the ASU program, except "Edit Handbox" under the TOOLS section.
2) Adding objects -
This can be done one-at-a-time either via the handbox by entering the correct data in the string codes necessary; a wonderful discussion of the proper format for individually keying in objects is found at: http://www.weasner.com/etx/autostar/as_elements.html and at http://www.weasner.com/etx/autostar/guide-libraries.html .
However, the newest ASU updater and beyond will allow you to edit the material in bulk if you like!
For example, if you wish to have all currently "Observable" comets (some of these might not be visible in common telescopes, but it is handy to have the entire list loaded, from which you can delete any that you do not want to maintain....) according to the monthly Harvard updates, you can go to the specially-prepared listing of comets that is issued about the middle of each month JUST FOR THE AUTOSTAR at: http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/Ephemerides/Soft16.html . Copy TO FILE what pops up under that Harvard link....it is exactly the format the Autostar needs to recognize all comets in our skies at the present time. I copy mine on a diskette and label it "AutostarComets".
Once saved, open up your ASU Updater screen to "Advanced Functions" again and click on Comets. You will see every listing that is currently in your directory. Now all you must do is to go up to FILE on the ASU and click....then click IMPORT and find the diskette (or file) and open that up to your AutostarComets and highlight that file; the small window that pops up will recognize that file and ask you to select "Object Type"; click "Comet" and then go down and mark the "Delete all existing objects of selected type" so that it shows a checkmark. Pressing the IMPORT button will replace all of your old comet list with the new one!
For asteroids and NEOs, the procedure is identical and the Harvard link for Autostar-formatted data is:
http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/Ephemerides/Soft16.html . To load that of course, you will select "Asteroid" rather than Comet on the object choice and also mark the "Delete all existing objects...." choice at the bottom of the Import screen.
NOTE: there typically are more than 140 comets and hundreds of asteroids available from these two resources; for Autostar II (LX 200 GPS), you can indeed store nearly all comets and asteroids from those lists....but you will NOT want to do so. I highly recommend uploading via the previously described procedure to ASU and THEN going back and removing (delete) all that are not wanted from the list. By doing from the ASU instead of your saved files, you lessen the risk of tampering with the format they have provided to work with Autostar....even one SPACE on the listings can result in a total failure to recognize even one comet!
3) Adding tours -
The Meade updater support page ( http://www.meade.com/support/auto.html ) has a complete description on writing tours and putting them into your Autostar/ASU library; in addition, there are many fine tours that are specifically designed for Autostar and based on Dr. Clay's Constellation GO TO Guides found on the Mighty ETX Site at: http://www.weasner.com/etx/autostar/as_tours.html . The tours can be copied as complete files and IMPORTED into the TOURS box of the Advanced Function of the ASU Updater just as objects are imported in bulk. Once there, they can be added to or removed from the active list via the editing functions of importing and deletion.
4) Writing tours -
Writing a tour is fun and simple and can be done via the Autostar; the newest Meade LX 200 GPS manual has a section on doing just that, and it is also discussed quite well at the http://www.meade.com/support/auto.html Autostar support page.
5) Keeping current with satellites -
Satellites are more subject to rapid changes in short periods of time than any other objects, even the Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that are so popular today. Satellite positions should be updated and edited prior to every night's adventure outdoors in attempts to track and photograph them. Dick Seymour's fabulous work on satellite database acquisition and patches for proper satellite tracking are found extensively on the Mighty ETX site, specifically under the Autostar Section ( http://www.weasner.com/etx/autostar_info.html ) and I refer interested parties to that source for complete information.
For current and very precise updates on satellites for YOUR specific location, there is no better source for updates than "Heavens Above" at:
http://www.heavens-above.com/main.asp?Lat=35.0944&Lng=-92.5000&Loc=ARKANSAS+SKY&TZ=CST (this URL is for the ASO Conway Observatory's site location). Once there, you can enter your exact observing location and select the times, dates and visibility parameters of all satellites that you would like to observe....Heavens Above will take it from there and provide you with updated lists that you can key into your Autostar via the ASU Updater OR by direct key-in through Autostar on a daily basis.
Arkansas Sky Observatory
Copyright November 2002, ASO and P. Clay Sherrod