Our history in depth
We started working on early telescope control system designs in 1989. These designs provided only basic telescope control functionality however they were valuable learning experiences and provided good perspective on what the ultimate telescope control system design should embody.
We soon learned that to provide advanced telescope control system features (such as a sophisticated pointing model), we needed more computer horsepower. Therefore, in 1993, we re-architected our basic system design to use a PC as the control computer. The PCs of 1993 provided minimal computational power; however, our system capabilities and complexity were evolving with the rapid increase in PC capability. And so was born our SkyGuide Telescope Control System software. This first version of SkyGuide was Microsoft DOS based (remember that operating system?) and as such "took over" the whole machine.
With a capable software package to provide full telescope control, we turned our sights to a fresh look at our control system hardware. SkyWalker1 was born and in 1995, we opened for business in Massachusetts under the name Apogee Instruments and began selling product (SkyWalker1 with SkyGuide-PC for DOS) targeted to custom telescope mount installations. Several equatorial and Alt/Az instruments adopted this successful system.
Around this time we started work on porting SkyGuide-PC to run under windows in a manner that did not "take over" the whole machine (as no well-behaved windows program should). This was a significant effort since control system software needs to provide guaranteed latency in servicing control system hardware. In 1997 we introduced our SkyGuide for Windows Telescope Control System software.
With Windows support and our system for custom telescope mounts in place, we turned our attention to developing a telescope control system for popular commercial telescope mounts. We accomplished this with our SkyWalker2 design. SkyWalker2 controlled two high performance (micro-stepped) stepper motors and various telescope peripherals. We also developed two retrofit kits: one for the Losmandy G-11/GM-8 mounts and one for the Celestron CI700 mounts. These products were released in 1999 and sold through 2001. Also in (early) 1999, we decided to reincorporate under the name Astrometric Instruments, Inc. to avoid confusion with the Apogee Instruments, Inc. that was already advertising nationally offering CCD cameras.
In 2001 we released two new products: the SkyWalker-Servo telescope control system for commercial mounts (replaces SkyWalker2) and the SkyWalker1i "fully integrated" servomotor-based control system for custom mounts.
With Windows XP on the horizon in 2001 we embarked on a new project to move the telescope control system “smarts” from the PC to hardware. Previous versions of our SkyWalker system contained the bulk of the system functionality in our SkyGuide software product for Windows 95/98/ME. With Microsoft’s move to Windows 2000/XP/NT there were significant changes to the way high-performance software “device drivers” were engineered. We had previously designed SkyGuide to provide low latency and high performance (so called “real time”) performance under Windows but with Microsoft’s move to Windows 2000/XP/NT all this work would need to be redone. Additionally, we wanted to not be wed to a particular operating system (OS) and leave the door open to operation with other OS’es (e.g. MacOS, Linux) into the future. Therefore, in 2001, we embarked upon our Smart-SkyWalker project to move our systems functionality from PC-resident software into our SkyWalker hardware.
In 2004 we shipped our first S-Box units which brought Smart-SkyWalker functionality to our existing SkyWalker products. Since then we have significantly expanded Smart-SkyWalker functionality to professional-class capabilities as detailed on our applications page. Also in 2004 we introduce our Maestro software which provided a full-featured Windows user interface to our new S-Box enabled SkyWalker models.
In 2007 we started contracting the installation of complete observatory control systems. Some of these projects can be reviewed on our applications page. This work has expanded our telescope control products to encompass all observatory functions with state of the art and standards-based products for controlling dome, focus, filter wheel, instrument rotator and switched devices so that by 2009 we were offering end-to-end observatory control systems at large. With this Astrometric Instruments went through an important transformation where our latest products are targeted for high-performance amateur and professional applications. While we remained interested in supplying observatory control solutions across the range from amateur to professional we no longer offered our commercial “retrofit” products for Losmandy and Celestron mounts. We do however continue to provide support and functionality upgrades for every product we have shipped.
With experience adapting control systems to existing telescopes we had gathered many ideas for improvement in mount design. In 2009 we embarked on a project to develop new equatorial telescope mounts for telescopes in the 0.5m to 1.0m class. In 2011 we completed our XF2 fork equatorial and in 2012 we completed our XMG2 “modified German equatorial” which is installed at Northern Skies Observatory. While these are prototypes developed in our well-equipped machine shop we did employ many job-shop contractors and are equipped to contract similar work.
Through our complete observatory contracting we gained much experience on what it takes to assure reliable night-after-night operation of a “production” observatory. We learned the importance of a clean and well thought-out architecture to reduce cabling and connections. With these learnings, we developed our PrimeTCS system which is targeted specifically to high-reliability applications. PrimeTCS was released in 2016 and provides a substantial system simplification (reduction of individual components and cables) and is engineered from the ground-up with priority given to reliability. PrimeTCS integrates the whole-system functionality (reducing cables and enclosures) and uses only the highest quality components such as high-durability military-grade connectors and cables.
We are committed to continue producing quality product, providing excellent customer service and advancing the state of the art in the astronomy equipment marketplace. Beyond this commitment, we very much enjoy providing quality product and service and will continue to do what we enjoy!