I’m excited to announce the Astrolab: an astronomy computer that’s coming to private beta later this year. If you’re interested in a device that can remotely control your telescope’s autoguiding and image acquisition (and much more to come!), please read on for details, and complete the questionnaire at the bottom of this post.

The Astrolab: a Remote Control for Your Telescope

The Astrolab is a device that connects to your telescope hardware (mount, camera, autoguider, etc.) and your local broadband connection to provide full remote controlling of your telescope. It differs from existing products in a few key ways:

  • You don’t have to forward ports, configure your router, set up DNS, or remember your IP address. Just turn on your device, head to app.astroswarm.com, wait 10 seconds for your device to show up, and click on it.
  • It works behind almost any firewall.
  • It receives free software upgrades automatically.
  • It’s designed from the ground up to make use of internet connectivity and the AstroSwarm network. See below for a sneak peak of what’s to come.
  • It’s built on open source hardware and software, so you have the choice of buying it or building it yourself.

Designed for an Internet-Connected World

The most important design consideration of the Astrolab is its internet connectivity and networking model. Every Astrolab that joins the network becomes a source of information for every other Astrolab on the network. This makes possible a new breed of astronomical features, such as:

  • Real time notifications about what you and other astronomers are looking at.
  • Collaborative observation and imaging projects that require broad geographic and hardware diversity.
  • Feed sharing of telescopes via the web and social media.
  • Super fast, cloud-based plate-solving.
  • Virtual “trading” of telescopes, so you can try out new hardware and allow others to try yours.
  • Purchase and sale of time on remote telescopes, without any minimum commitments or secondary software platforms to learn.

What’s the Difference between the Astrolab and AstroSwarm?

The Astrolab is the hardware controller that plugs into your telescope and connects to the internet. It is entirely open source (both hardware and software) and permissively licensed (MIT). A pre-built and fully supported commercial version will also be available.

AstroSwarm is the web service that all the Astrolabs communicate with, contribute to, and learn from. For the duration of the beta, AstroSwarm will be free. At some point, AstroSwarm will diverge into free and paid versions. The goal of AstroSwarm is to make space study as accessible and affordable as possible, but it must generate revenue in order to finance the needs of that ambition (support, hosting, development, hardware testing, and eventually: dark sky real estate). AstroSwarm will always have a free feature set available to Astrolab owners and to the wider astronomy community.

What does an Astrolab look like?

The design is far from final, but here is the latest rendering:

Astrolab 3D Rendering

The case is 3D-printable, air-cooled, weather-resistant, and able to stand freely or hang from a tripod mount. The air vents are sheltered and hidden from view for both form and function, but can be seen from the underside:

Astrolab Underside 3D Rendering

How does an Astrolab work with AstroSwarm?

When you visit the AstroSwarm web site, your Astrolab will show up:

AstroSwarm's Astrolab Activation Page

After launching it, you can run an application, such as an autoguider or a camera controller. Any Linux application can be made to run on the Astrolab. PHD Guiding and Open Sky Imager are supported out of the box.

Launching an application

Selecting an application

Using an application

Who Should Sign Up for the Beta?

You should join the beta if you want to have an outsized voice in the development of a next-generation astronomy platform.

It’s important that you be comfortable with new technology, and that you commit to using your Astrolab at least every other week for six months.

Beta participants will receive perks, including:

  • Preferred pricing over a general production unit.
  • A satisfaction guarantee: you may return your Astrolab for a full refund at the end of the Beta.
  • Public recognition on the AstroSwarm platform.
  • Free hardware upgrades to production-spec units (if such upgrades are found to be necessary).

If you’re not comfortable with new technology, or if experiencing a bug will annoy you, the beta program is not for you. That’s okay – we’d love to have you on board after the spacedust settles!

How To Sign Up for the Beta and Give Feedback

To apply to join the beta (or just give feedback), please complete this survey.

I’ll select beta customers based on their experience, equipment, and background, and I’ll begin reaching out to folks later this year.