Meade LX200 AutoStar Upgrade
Made by George Dudash, George Dudash & Associates - LX200AUTOSTAR.COM
The Meade LX200 Classic telescope is a great older model telescope that will still serve an amateur astronomer very well, however, being produced in the late 80s and early 90s, its electronics and hand controller leave much to be desired. The optical train of this telescope is excellent in most cases, and the structure and build of the telescope is enduring and will last for many years to come. I have owned several Meade LX200 Classic telescopes through the years, and I still own a 10 inch f10 LX200 Classic today.
When I heard a rumor about a man who was making a kit that allowed the owners of the older Meade LX200 Classic to update their telescopes to the more modern Meade 494, 495, 497, and AudioStar controllers, I was immediately interested in finding out more about it. I joined the LX200 AutoStar Yahoo group to find out more about this upgrade.
I decided to call George Dudash to get more information about the LX200 AutoStar. I requested the upgrade kit and George sent it to me immediately. It was refreshing to actually talk to the person who makes this kit, because his wealth of knowledge in this area makes any concerns of customer support vaporize into the air. I knew after talking to George that if I had any questions or issues about the installation, he would be more than willing and able to help answer my questions.
After the box containing the upgrade arrived I opened it to check it out and see what all came with the kit. The new panel for the upgrade looked extremely nice and well made. I especially liked the large power rocker switch that replaces the small slide switch that the original LX200 Classic panel uses for power control. The new metal panel was finished in a smooth gloss black with the new LX200 AutoStar information in white lettering. All of the RJ and input jack connectors on the front panel looked very sturdy and well-made. The electronics board was very clean and well laid out. The electronic board was fastened to the front panel securely and I had no concerns that it would stay that way in the future. This front panel assembly was clearly well-made and well thought out, which eased my slight trepidation about doing this upgrade.
When the time was right I set up my video camera to videotape as I did the conversion process to the new LX200 AutoStar system. I also decided to purchase one of the new AudioStar controllers from Meade to allow me to let the new updated LX200 Classic play back information about the target at public outreach events. I placed the telescope on a sturdy surface, in the upright position.
Video of the LX200 AutoStar installation
My first step was to unscrew the four small Phillips head screws that were holding the original LX200 panel in place. Once the screws were removed, I was able to pull the panel away from the telescope base to gain access to the ribbon cable attached to the back of the original panel. Once I unplugged the ribbon cable from the back of the original panel, I set the old panel aside. In order to gain access to the wired connector that would plug into the new panel, I decided to remove the cover from the bottom of the telescope base. I gently laid the LX200 on its side and removed the four Phillips head outer screws and the two centrally based countersunk Phillips head screws and removed the base cover. The wire connector was easily located and disconnected and rerouted to the opening of the panel and plugged into the connector on the new panel board. I also decided to remove the ribbon cable from the main PCB board and store it with the original panel and hand controller. At that point the base cover plate was placed back on and secured with the original screws. Setting the telescope upright again, I set the panel into place in the opening of the telescope base and used the four Phillips head screws to secure the new panel into place.
The telescope was now ready to have the connections made and the unit turned on. I attached the declination cable from the new panel to its fork position. The new Meade AudioStar controller plugged into the hand box connection on the panel, and a 12 V power cord was connected to the 12 V barrel socket connection on the panel. I plugged the 12 V power cord into a battery and powered up the system. The system came up without a problem and all motors worked as expected. I must note that this new panel is a 12 V panel and should have a 12 V power supply to operate properly. The old Meade 12 V to 18 V DC power supply should not be used with this new panel.
Now the Meade audio star hand controller needs to be set up for the LX200 Classic telescope. Since the LX200 Classic telescope is a standard Alt/Az mount, you can use the Meade ETX telescope type in the setup menu. Once you set up the telescope as a Meade ETX, you need to go into the setup further and set the ratios for the motors in the LX200 Classic. This is a relatively simple procedure as you set each ratio for each motor at 3.000000. Once that is done, the controller is set properly to recognize the type of mount as well as the motor ratio necessary to move the telescope properly.
Next, it was time to set up under the stars. I set up the telescope as I normally would and used my StarGPS system to input the date and time into the AudioStar controller. I engaged the new controller to do an easy alignment, and it proceeded to move as expected. After some adjustment to align the first target, the telescope then slewed to the second target which was slightly out of the field of view. After a couple minor corrections to put that target into view, I was informed that alignment was successful. From that point on every target that I requested was in the field of view for the rest of the evening. I had a controller with thousands more targets to choose from, and I made use of them throughout the night. This telescope was now even more of a pleasure to use.
So, what do I think of the system? To be honest with you, I cannot think of any reason why anyone with an LX200 Classic telescope should not make this upgrade. My LX200 Classic was functioning as it should, and I was having no problems with it whatsoever. Still, this upgrade made sense to me. This upgrade eliminates the issues involved with the electronics of the older LX200 system and the problems with the leaky capacitors on the old board and the hand controller. Also, the older LX200 hand controller is difficult to find in good condition and relatively expensive. With the new system, the new hand controllers can be flashed with new information as needed to provide the best service for the older, reliable telescope. If, for some reason, you should decide that you want to go back to the older system, this kit allows you to do that. All you need to do to retrofit the telescope back to its original configuration is to reverse the process and put the original panel and cables back into their original positions. This is not an irreversible process. This upgrade is extremely easy to do, and it took me only 15 minutes to change my 90s style telescope to a telescope that is right at home in the 21st century. If you have a Meade LX200 Classic telescope, I would recommend that you give this upgrade very serious consideration.