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Competition: Win a PiKon telescope

Write code to improve this Pi-powered telescope and you could win one of your own


This month we interviewed Mark Wrigley and Andy Kirby to find out more about their PiKon telescope project for the Raspberry Pi – you can read the full article in issue 146, available online as well as from your favourite newsagent.


What is the PiKon?

The MoonBriefly, PiKon is a 3D-printed telescope that uses a stripped Raspberry Pi camera module (just the sensor; no lens) in order to capture photographs of the night sky. It’s powerful enough to shoot about half of the Moon in full frame and, currently, it is operated via the command line. At the moment, a simple raspistill command is doing all of the work.

Where do I come in?

Mark and Andy need your help. As they explain in the interview, their focus is on disruptive technologies and 3D printing rather than the Raspberry Pi itself – they’re not programmers – so they’re looking for your help in order to improve the code. Here’s what Mark says:

“We’re using raspistill at the moment, which gives you a certain number of seconds of preview and then takes the picture, so it’s a bit clunky. The next thing to do then is to control PiKon from an input/output device like a shutter button and then give the JPG files you produce a sequential or date-stamped filename. One thought I had was it would be nice if you could take multiple shots with the PiKon – you press a button and it keeps taking a photograph every five seconds.”

How can I help?

Think you can write some software to improve the way PiKon works? Have a go, email your code to and we’ll pass it along to the guys – Mark and Andy will test out your ideas, and whoever hits the sweet spot and writes something that really improves the functionality of the telescope will be rewarded with their own PiKon kit, including all the 3D-printed parts you need ready for assembly.

Andy and Mark suggest a number of areas that could currently be improved:

  • Shutter button
  • Sequential/date-stamped filenames
  • Time-lapse
  • Image processing
  • Stacking and stitching images
  • Filtering noise

…but feel free to send in anything that you think would be a brilliant addition – all your help will be appreciated!

Got some resources?

Of course we have! Andy has suggested a number of astronomy packages available in the Debian repositories that you might make use of:

  • astronomical-almanac, astronomical almanac – calculate planet and star positions
  • eso-midas – European Southern Observatory Munich Image Data Analysis System
  • gcx – astronomical image processing and photometry gtk+ application (more info below)
  • – tool to process planetary astronomical images for GNUstep
  • python-pyfits – Python module for reading, writing, and manipulating FITS files
  • saods9 – image display tool for astronomy
  • science-astronomy – Debian Science Astronomy packages
  • sextractor – source extractor for astronomical images
  • skycap – image visualisation and access to catalogs and data for
  • astronomywxastrocapture – Windows linuX Astronomy Capture
  • python-exactimage – fast image manipulation library (Python bindings)
  • python-skimage – Python modules for image processing
  • python-vipscc – image processing system good for very large images (tools)

And here’s a bit more from info from Andy for those of you who have a little experience with astrophotography and image processing:

“Probably most promising would be the development of a Raspberry Pi app that gives a real-time image of what is viewed by the PiKon, and which allows the user to take a still with a button press (hardware I/O port and remote lead, or mouse-clicked button) as well as being a gcx-compatible server. This would allow gcx on a faster machine to be networked up, to control the PiKon as well as capture and image process what the PiKon saw, without needing to actually reinvent the image processing wheel. Hardware control of alt/azimuth positioning and the like would be a real bonus.”

Gcx is an astronomical image processing and data reduction tool with an easy-to-use graphical user interface. It can control CCD cameras and telescopes, and implement automatic observation scripting. Cameras are controlled through a hardware-specific server, to which gcx connects through a TCP socket. Gcx can also function as a FITS viewer and generates FITS files with comprehensive header information; FITS (Flexible Image Transport System) is a data format most used in astronomy – PyFITS is a Python module for reading, writing, and manipulating FITS files.

Get in touch if you have any ideas or questions, and send us your code to help Mark and Andy improve PiKon for everyone – and to win an assembly kit of your own: We’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with!