SXcon – Freeware for Controlling Starlight Xpress CCDs

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    Grant Privett

    A few years back I wrote some code to control my Starlight SXM7 CCD camera. It wasn’t that the code supplied by Starlight didn’t work, it worked fine. The problem was it just didn’t think the way I did, so I eventually gave in and decided to write my own.

    So, over a few months I wrote some software to run a camera, control its temperature, mess about with the display scaling and save the results in a fully compatible FITS format that could be read into Deep Sky Stacker or similar for analysis. It took me a while – spare time was in short supply – but it would have taken a lot longer if Terry Platt and Michael Hattey at Starlight hadn’t been so generous with their time in answering all of my dumb questions.

    Since then its developed a bit and now controls a Starlight filter wheel (for narrowband imaging) if it finds one is connected, plus allowing delays between frames (for exoplanet monitoring) and will shortly have a much improved focusing section. After that I will spend some months translating it from VB6 to VB.NET.

    Its not elegant, its not dazzlingly fast, but it does the job. I’ve tested it with all the Starlights I have had access to: Lodestar V1+2, M7, MX9, H18, Trius 694, SX25C, Ultrastar and Superstar. It should work with nearly any of their USB2 cameras.

    Given the effort I have put in over the years, it seems a shame that it is currently only being used by 4 people, so I thought I would offer it up as freeware to anyone in the BAA who fancies it. Attached is a screen shot or two of it in use – it can use the whole screen or a smaller portion to make its use with other software more convenient. If anyone fancies trying a copy then please email me and I can send you a copy of the manual – its over 2MB – and code.

    The usual freeware rules apply. I give you free software to use as you will, but I guarantee nothing about it – though if you look at my BAA page, nearly every image on there was collected using it.

    For the record: I have no business relationship with Starlight Xpress. I am merely a happy user of their products.

    Grant Privett

    Just a note to say that I finished an updated version.

    It now works with all current Starlight USB cameras.

    The big difference is that if more than one Starlight camera is attached, you get to choose which one will be used. That has the benefit that multiple instances of SXcon can be run to control up to 4 different cameras simultaneously.

    Additionally, the configuration file changes mean you can have up to 4 alternate observing sites/gear setups. These are used to document the images better via the FITS header keywords (pixel size, long/lat, focal length etc).

    Also, I improved the code internally to make it more robust to dodgy USB cables.

    As before, anyone who wants to try the freeware code is welcome. Just email me.

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