StarGPS and StarGPS-LX Systems
The StarGPS System
From the top, the GPS Receiver, StarPatch CD, and GPS-ASTAR cable for connecting the GPS to the Autostar Controller and mount.
The StarGPS-LX System
From the top, the GPS Receiver, GPS-LX200 cable, and GPS-ASTAR cable for connecting the GPS to the LX200 or to the Autostar Controller and mount.
[Please note that StarGPS-LX includes the choice of one cable. Additional cables are $30 each)
I love astronomy and astrophotography. I have a multitude of telescopes and mounts. My favorite scopes are my 8" and 10" LX200 Classics and my LXD55 AR6 and spare LXD55 mount. At our many public and club observation sessions, one of our club members would set up his 12" LX200GPS and I would wish I could set up my scopes with the accuracy and ease of his GPS scope.
I came across an opportunity to test a GPS-Mate system produced by BC&F. I posted that the review for the GPS-Mate would soon appear on this website. That is when I was contacted by Chris Carson of StarGPS. Chris provided me with a StarGPS and a StarGPS-LX for review, and he shipped them to me overnight to be sure that I had them in time for a public star party. They arrived the day of the star party and I quickly reviewed the setup instructions and then loaded up the new GPS units with my scopes to be set up that evening. I was supposed to receive the GPS-Mate, but I never received one due to backorders. My plans to test the StarGPS, StarGPS-LX, and the GPS-Mate side-by-side would not take place.
StarGPS is designed to work with the 495/497 Autostar. It works by updating the Autostar software so that it can interpret GPS data. I first needed to update my two Autostar 497 controllers with the new GPS code. The StarGPS comes with a program written by Chris Carson called StarPatch. This is an updater program for sending updates to your Autostar controllers. The program loaded onto my XP based computer with no problems whatsoever. I attached the serial port connector to an open COM port, connected it to my Autostar controller, and turned on the LXD55 mount. I used the ability of the StarPatch software to get the latest update over the internet. I then selected the new update and started the update process. StarPatch verified the software version that I already had on the Autostar and asked if I wanted to install the new version. I had to enter a license code for that controller, and then the update began. Once the code had uploaded, the system reset and the new code was in place. With the StarGPS, you must get a separate license for each Autostar controller, so if you have several Autostar mounts, you can use the GPS with all mounts, but each controller will need the extra code in order to update for StarGPS use. I must say right now that StarPatch is a MUST HAVE! for anyone that is interested in sending updates to their Autostar controller. If is fast, efficient, and by far superior to the Meade uploader. Kudos to Chris for writing this program. An excellent tool for the Autostar owner.
Here I must pass on a word of warning. I updated the mount that carries my AR6 OTA and it went smoothly, and the mount worked flawlessly. The "Telescope Type" setting was a 152mm Telescope. I updated my other mount that carries my cameras for astrophotography and my Orion 80ED, and this mount had the Autostar "Telescope Type" setting set at 127mm Telescope. This scope would not work correctly after the update, but I would not know this until I tried to set it up at the star party.
I arrived at the observation site. This was a site that I had never set up at for a star party, so the GPS units would be a big plus for accurate go-tos that would help the public see more objects and minimizes the wait times. Having no experience with GPS systems, I arrived early to give myself time to set up the 4 scopes that I would be using and setting up with the help of the StarGPS and StarGPS-LX. I did not need the time to set up that I thought I would. I first set up my AR6 on the LXD55 mount. I did a quick polar alignment, and then plugged the StarGPS receiver into the Aux port of the LXD55 mount and the Autostar controller. I turned on the scope, and the new software started looking to GPS satellites for my position. It took less than a minute to find my location and set the time. At this point I unplugged the StarGPS receiver from the Aux port. I did an easy alignment and with minor adjustments, I was ready to input an object. I selected Saturn and hit the GoTo button. The scope slewed to Saturn, hit it dead center in the eyepiece, and held it there all night, except when the crowd kicked the telescope and I had to make minor adjustments to recenter the image. This was an outstanding example of the accuracy that the StarGPS system will bring to your mount. Next up was the LXD55 mount with the Orion 80mm ED. I hooked up the StarGPS, and it once again did a great job of getting the necessary info and setting up the mount. However, once I tried to do an easy alignment, the mount started doing some really bizarre contortions and I had to shut the mount down to keep it from scraping the OTA off with the tripod legs. I tried again, but to no avail. It appeared that this mount was totally screwed up by the software upgrade. Frustrated, I slewed the scope manually to Jupiter and synced to follow the target, but the scope proceeded to grind, buzz, and generally make noise that even the general public knew was not right. I shut that mount down and proceeded to set up the 8" and 10" LX200 Classics.
Starting with the 8" LX200 Classic, I plugged the StarGPS-LX into the RS232 port, and turned the scope on. The LX200 beeped, and then the GPS receiver LED started to glow a steady red. After about a minute, the LED started to blink slowly and steadily, letting me know that the GPS receiver had set my mount to the proper settings. I then unplugged the GPS since it is no longer needed. Starting a 2-star alignment, the usual rather accurate LX200 Classic proved much more accurate, and a GoTo to Jupiter showed the Red Giant dead center in the 18mm TeleVue Radian. I was stunned by how effortless it was to use the StarGPS-LX. It was an absolute joy, fast, friendly, and accurate. The 10" LX200 Classic set up and located even faster, and after a 2 star alignment, the scope GoTo slewed perfectly to M51, and the Galaxy showed nicely in the 40mm Televue Plossl. The StarGPS-LX is a complete joy to use. There is no way I can adequately express how easy it is to use this GPS unit, or how accurate it is. I know that I will not ever set up again without it. It is, simply, that good.
The star party crowd started to thin out, and I tore down the scopes. Now, I was determined to find out why one of my LXD mounts refused to cooperate. I reloaded the software several times. I then started to load older software to try to find out if it was a newer software problem. No dice. Older software didn't help. I reloaded the latest software again, and with help from Chris Carson, Mike Weasner, and Richard Seymour, we started to troubleshoot possible problems. Nothing seemed to work. Resetting and retraining the mount didn't work. Then, Richard Seymour suggested that I check to see if the Telescope Model was set to an ETX scope. Sure enough, it was. Evidently, during the software update the scope model had changed. This can happen if you don't "Reset" the Autostar following a software update using StarPatch or the Meade uploader. I reset my controller to a 127mm scope, and that took care of the problem. This was not a fault of the GPS system, the StarPatch software, or the software update. The system simply reset the scope type. My only suggestion is to go through your Autostar setup to make sure that nothing has changed during the update. This will help you avoid the problems that I have encountered.
Chris also sent me a handheld Garmin eTrex GPS receiver and cable to test with the StarGPS system. The StarGPS Handheld package includes a StarPatch CD, a cable to connect to your PC, and a cable to connect a Garmin or Magellan GPS to the 497 Autostar. This is an excellent option if you already have a GPS receiver. To use your GPS receiver with the StarGPS system, all you need to do is to connect the supplied GPS receiver cable between your GPS receiver your Autostar controller. Your GPS receiver must be set to export data in the NMEA $GPRMC and $GPGSV format at a rate of 4800 or 9600 baud with no parity, 8 data bits and 1 stop bit. Seeing that Chris was nice enough to send me his eTrex Handheld GPS receiver, I decided to try it with my LXD55 mount. I took the mount out, and did a polar alignment to prepare for the GPS set up. Once the mount was polar aligned, I turned on the GPS receiver and allowed it to find the GPS satellites. Once the GPS receiver had found its position, I turned on the LXD55 mount. The Autostar proceeded with its normal initialization, and once it progressed to searching for the GPS receiver, it retrieved the necessary information from the eTrex GPS and the setup was complete. This is an absolutely painless way to add GPS control to your Autostar mount. It worked absolutely flawlessly, and if you already own a GPS receiver, this is an excellent way to go.
Folks, I must say that I honestly thought that there would be quite a bit of set up, and a steep learning curve in order to use a StarGPS system. I humbly must inform you that I could not have been more wrong. The StarGPS and StarGPS-LX systems are incredibly easy to use, and worth every penny. I must highly recommend that if you have an LXD55 mount or an LX200 telescope, it would be in your best interests for ease of setup to purchase either product. They are reasonably priced, easy-to-use, well-documented, well built, and very accurate. With StarGPS, If you own multiple LXD55 or Autostar systems, you must purchase additional registration codes for each Autostar (this is not the case with StarGPS-LX). However, at $15 per code, and given the absolute value of this product, you must consider this a very good deal. I highly recommend the StarGPS and StarGPS-LX systems to anyone who owns an Autostar, LXD55, or LX200 system. [More information can be found at www.stargps.ca]
You can get the StarGPS System at StarGPS
UPDATE - 12/28/2005 - I have had the StarGPS and StarGPS LX systems for over a year and a half now (20 months). Chris has been staying on top of the Meade updates and notifying owners when we might want to update the Autostar with the GPS compatible software updates. I am happy to say that I have never had any trouble at all with these systems, and I always use them when I set up my LX200 and LXD55 scopes and mounts. To say I am pleased with the StarGPS would be a SEVERE understatement. Only occasionally do I ever review a product that works this well EVERY TIME. Thanks to Chris for the super product and excellent service.