Fun with Telescopes

Recently I purchased a small telescope to look at solar spots. When choosing a mount, I checked whether it can be controlled with OSS.

In this context INDI is mentioned everywhere and my desired mount was supported. indi and kstars are already part of Debian, so “apt install”, selecting my mount, …. oh, wait, the menu shows it, but I can not select it.

Ok, that was the time when I learned about the difference of indi and indi-3rdparty. The indi package just contains a few drivers and others are available from a different repository. This split has been done either due to different release cycles of the driver, a different OSS license of it, or just due to binary blobs without source being part of some drivers.

Fine, there are already packages of the 3rdparty-repository available from an Ubuntu PPA, so it should be no problem to add them do Debian as well.

Some manufacturers freely distribute at least the specification of their API so that others are able to write the corresponding software. Some manufacturers even write their own driver. Examples are:

  • Skywatcher (mounts who can be controlled by the Skywatcher Protocol)
  • Shelyak to control some spectrographs
  • Radio Astronomy Supplies’ SpectraCyber hydrogen line spectrometer
  • Vixen, for controlling Vixen Starbook and Vixen Starbook Ten
  • Starlight Express, SX CCDs, SX wheel and SX Active Optics

A minor part actually does not have binary blobs but distributes the sources of their software. Unfortunately they have licenses that are not compatible with DFSG and those packages still need to go to non-free. Examples are:

  • Finger Lakes Instrumentation (FLI), L.L.C.
  • Lunatico Astronomia
  • Astrojolo
  • Astromechanics

But there also seem to exist lots of manufacturers of astronomically accessories, especially cameras, that just distribute some binary blobs to talk to their hardware. This is sad, but at the moment it is just the way it is and such package need to go to non-free.

Luckily their blobs are accompanied with corresponding licenses. At least those manufacturers understand how software licenses work and packaging their SDK is just straight forward. Examples are:

  • SBIG Astronomical Instruments
  • Moravian Instruments Inc.
  • Player One Astronomy

However, when looking at the license information of some Ubuntu packages, several of them were distributed under a CC license. This is not a common license for software, so I wanted to get a confirmation whether these information are correct.

Unfortunately most of such manufacturers don’t want to disclose their licenses. For whatever reason they distribute their tarballs without any hint and emails to their support channels are just ignored. Examples of such bad behaviour are:

  • Altaircam
  • QSI (was bought by Atik)
  • Atik
  • Touptek
  • QHY

However the best answer comes from the Levenhuk support. My question about the license of their SDK was answered by:

I am afraid we cannot disclose any further information except the software file that is available on our website.

So strictly speaking nobody is allowed to use their software. I wonder whether such competence also becomes visible in their products. I will never really know as there are more than enough OSS friendly manufacturers available.

Anyway, most of the indi-3rdparty drivers are now available and I got lots of suggestions about hardware I need to buy in the future :-).

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