The StarGPS NX02 GPS Time and Location Receiver as an Alternative to the On-board LX200 GPS System

A review by Dr. P. Clay Sherrod, Arkansas Sky Observatories, ASO H45/H41

There are thousands of LX200 Classic and LX200 GPS/ACF Meade telescopes in use around the world. These are perhaps the "best bang for the buck" production telescope ever made for both the beginning and the serious amateur/non-professional astronomer. In small observatories world-wide, the larger 12, 14 and 16-inch LX200 GPS scopes are being used regularly for serious research and contributions to the science of astronomy. At every star party and public viewing event, you will see these mainstays of the astronomical community in use.

Accurate and dependable, the Meade LX200 series of telescopes can give great joy and rewards to those who use them, but one of the most common and serious complaint is their either lack of ever locking onto a GPS fix or that taking 2-3 minutes or even longer to acquire. Recently, having waited my last long session to get a GPS fix prior to trying to track down a rapidly setting comet, I ordered the StarGPS NX02 GPS module and connections for the LX200 GPS hoping that it would speed up the process.

Indeed it did, and within seconds.

The unit consists of a very sensitive, well built and durable GPS receiver block and a simple coupler/cable to link the StarGPS to either of the two rs232 ports on the telescope control panel; since there are two ports on every LX200 GPS/ACF telescope, this means that the coupler can be left attached to the telescope after the GPS has acquired its fix if the user so desires, making the unit quite easy to keep up with in the dark. The StarGPS does not require any stand-alone power source so cabling is quick and simple.

The Autostar default GPS must be turned to "OFF" (under Setup/Telescope/GPS) when first setting up; once done, the telescope must be turned off again and StarGPS installed into the rs232 port.

The first time the unit is activated, the Autostar will go from its first "Headline Screen" to a message that the unit is searching for the correct time; this will be in Universal Time (UTC) and it will automatically set your Standard Time/DST default to "NO" which is where it needs to stay. The StarGPS will also default your Time Zone to "0" which is necessary for UTC; this also should stay on that setting and never changed by the user. No need to ever change this during the semi-annual DST time change fiasco.

I did note that, although the time fix on the very first time powering up the telescope with the StarGPS attached was quite fast, the lock onto the LOCATION was very slow, taking a bit over one minute in my domed observatory (fiberglass). I learned however that this slow first lock is common and sure enough, each subsequent power cycle locked onto both the TIME and the LOCATION within seconds.

What I have always liked about all the StarGPS units that I have used on every telescope that I own is that they are simple: no setup required, no CD to download, no drivers, no fuss. Just plug it in and it does the work for you.
NOTE: on all of Arkansas Sky Observatories' telescopes we use a variety of planetarium programs to drive the telescopes once initialized. The conversion by StarGPS NX02 to UTC and the change in the Time Zone and DST defaults that are automatically part of the StarGPS process does NOT affect in any way the operation or accuracy of the use of these programs. So do not avoid the use of this wonderful product because you think it may affect or conflict with the computer time setting with your planetarium program.

So, if your LX200 Classic, LX200 GPS/ACF or any other modern telescope is taking too long to lock onto the exact time, date and location, consider the affordable alternative and upgrade to the no-nonsense StarGPS NX02. These are products that work, and once installed you can forget about them and enjoy the night sky. Then, next time you are ready to fire up the telescope again....StarGPS NX02 is ready and waiting.

Doc Clay



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