The daily operation of an automated observatory using TAO involves several actions, such as starting the observatory control software, updating target databases, scheduling and carrying out observations. These actions are described in detail in the next sections.
As discussed in another section, observations scheduled with TAO may be executed on automated observatories which are controlled by either ACP/PinPoint/MaxIm DL CCD or TheSky/CCDSoft/Orchestrate. Other observatory control programs may also be used, provided they are supported in a custom version of TAO.
It is recommended that the observatory control software be run on a dedicated computer (not the same computer which is used to produce observation schedules). This allows the user to schedule observations while the observatory control computer is executing such tasks as taking calibration frames and science images, slewing the telescope, etc. Observatory control software often behaves unreasonably if it is run simultaneously on the same computer with CPU-intensive programs such as the scheduler. Besides, image downloading often causes the CPU to "freeze" during the process, which would be inconvenient if scheduling and other tasks are run on the observatory control computer.
The observatory control software is assumed to be running by the time the scheduled observations are due to start; one would normally start the observatory control software some time before the observations are due to begin, possibly in daytime. If you use a remote observatory through the Internet, you may use some remote-control software (such as TightVNC, pcAnywhere, or Microsoft's Remote Desktop) to start the observatory control software on the remote computer. ACP users could also start the TAO image acquisition script through ACP's built-in web interface, although this provides less flexibility than a remote-control program. Depending on the observatory's level of automation, you may need assistance from some person at the observing station for tasks such as opening a roll-off roof, turning telescope and computers on, synchronizing the telescope to the celestial sphere, and establishing Internet connections.
Either the target list or the Orchestrate scripts produced by the TAO scheduler need to be transferred to a suitable directory on the observatory control computer before the scheduled time for the start of the observations. If the observatory control computer and the computer used to produce observation schedules are on the same local network, the target list or the Orchestrate scripts may simply be copied from one computer to the other over the network. If you use a remote observatory, you will need to use a FTP client program to upload the target list or the Orchestrate scripts to the observatory control computer (or some other computer on the observatory's local network). This in turn requires that a FTP server program be running on some computer on the observatory's local network. Among the great variety of available FTP client programs, BulletProof FTP Client is particularly useful due to its ability to continuously monitor a specified directory for new files, and download them automatically as they appear. This feature allows one to automatically download image files in real time during the night. Serv-U and BulletProof FTP Server are two reliable and affordable FTP server programs. ACP users may also use the FTP server built into ACP.
Note: Two problems which are often encountered when configuring a remote observatory for
Internet access are: