Skip to Content

laptop

Choosing a Portable Power Station for Astrophotography

|Portable Power|14 Comments

One of the most common questions I get is “what portable power source do you use for astrophotography”. This is a hot topic in the astrophotography community, and there are many options to consider for powering your gear at night. 

When deciding on an off-grid power station, you need to think about things like battery life, power output, power input charging, and the number and types of output ports. There is no one-size-fits-all option, as budget and weight come into play as you explore the higher-end options.  

If you’ve ever browsed the Portable Power Stations on Amazon, you’ll know that there are literally hundreds of options to choose from. However, choosing the right one for your telescope and astrophotography purposes requires a slightly different approach.

portable power stations

Which portable power station is best for astrophotography in the field?

Whether charging via solar panels when you are off-grid is important to you, or you need a unit that can save your butt during a power outage – there is an option for you. If you enjoying comparing features and prices, selecting the best portable power station for your astrophotography needs is actually kind of fun.

In this article, I’ll describe my experiences using a premium portable power station, and provide a number of alternatives suggested by astrophotographers around the world. 

Feel free to leave a comment describing the portable power station you use, to help create a complete resource for astrophotographers. Just like everything else in this hobby, there are many options to choose from at various price points. 

The Need for a Portable Power Station

When taking pictures of space from the backyard, I plug into household AC power, but what about when I travel to a dark sky location? Milky Way photography with a DSLR and star tracker is one thing, but running a robust deep-sky imaging kit away from home is another.

There is a good chance, that if you’re an amateur astrophotographer, at some point you will need to invest in a quality portable power station. Something that can reliably power your astronomy telescope and accessories throughout the night.

astronomy camping

Portable power stations are essential while camping. 

Visual observers sometimes need power for a goto computerized mount and maybe a few dew heaters, but astrophotographers? We need to power anywhere from 3 to 17 devices (or more) and if even one of them fails, you can kiss your precious picture goodbye.

Thankfully, today’s portable power stations are equipped with many output ports, including dedicated AC and DC ports and multiple USB types. Some of them even include integrated wireless charging areas to charge your phone. 

Here are some of the potential devices you will need to power on your astrophotography setup:

Powered Devices for Astrophotography

battery pack for telescope

In the following video, I provide an overview and real-world experiences using the brand new Anker 757 Portable Power Station. Anker asked that I provide an “astrophotographer’s perspective” of their new mobile power station.

This is a great option to consider if you need a serious power station that can handle a wide variety of devices. If you are running a simple setup in the field, this type of portable power may be overkill for your astrophotography needs.

This large 1500W power station can power a robust setup for multiple nights.

Portable Power Station vs. a DIY Solution

The Anker 757 Portable Power Station is a fantastic unit, capable of powering several devices for an extended period of time. However, many amateur astrophotographers believe that it is more cost-effective to just “build your own” DIY power supply using a deep cycle marine battery. 

There are some serious cost savings if you take this route, and there are many great how-to tutorials available online to build one. To build one you will need:

  • A sealed deep cycle marine batteries
  • DC to AC power inverter
  • Smart Charger/Maintainer
  • Inverter Cable

Unfortunately for me, I have not had much luck with a DIY deep cycle marine battery unit (yes, I built one several years ago). My poor experience taking this route is likely due to the fact that I have zero experience in the field of electrical or mechanical engineering. It seems that I am the exception in the astrophotography crowd. 

As I mentioned in the video, bulletproof reliability is critical to me, and I am willing to pay a little extra for it. The all-in-one package that Anker has created is impressive and is a smart option for anyone willing to pay the added cost. 

DIY power station

Here is an example of someone who built their own portable power station using a mix of components. If you’re up to the task of taking on projects like this, you can really save some money. Again, this is beyond my personal skill set, but it’s an option.

Video: How to Make a Portable Power Station

 

A Portable Power Station for your Telescope

To me, the most important feature of a portable power station for astrophotography is reliability. It also has to have enough power to go at least an entire night (or 2) before needing to be charged.

It also needs to have enough output ports for all of the astrophotography accessories I need to plug in from USB-powered dew-heaters to my laptop charger.

If the portable power station is not up to the task of providing a constant source of power to my rig for an entire night without interruption, it’s useless to me. Even a brief outage means I lose the connection to my telescope mount, the autoguiding goes nuts, and I squander a precious clear sky.

I’d rather run a 200-foot extension cord than risk a battery that flickers in and out. I’ve had this happen before, and it’s absolutely infuriating. The good news is, that most of the astrophotography gear we all use does not consume a lot of power, with a few exceptions of course. 

Anker 757 PowerHouse

I tested Anker’s flagship 1500 Watt power station to run my deep-sky astrophotography rig, the 757 PowerHouse. It’s pretty heavy (44 pounds), but the built-in handles make it a lot more manageable.

The 757 uses premium LFP (LiFePO4) batteries, and it can charge from 0% to 80% in about an hour. It’s a slick package made with an automotive-grade aluminum frame. It’s vibration and temperature resistant, and here’s an important one, it’s silent.

The Anker 757 PowerHouse is a 1500W (1228Wh) power station with LPF (LiFeP04) batteries and 13 ports to connect various devices. 

portable battery for astrophotography

There are 13 ports in total to power everything you need for your astrophotography imaging rig. There is 1 “car-socket style” DC port which you might use for your computerized telescope mount.

I still use a DC connection for my Sky-Watcher EQ-6 Pro equatorial mount, so I was pleased to see it there. The rest of my astrophotography equipment is powered by the AC and USB outputs on the power station.

I like to plug in things like a 12V 4A power supply for my ASIAIR Plus, or Celestron NexStar 8SE into the AC output ports. The USB-A ports are perfect for my USB-powered dew heater bands, although you’ll need to make sure that you have long cords to reach the power station from the objective of the telescope.

Those of you with laptops, cooled dedicated astronomy cameras, and autofocusers will have more than enough power to play with for about 2 straight nights (depending on usage and temperature). 

When running an advanced astrophotography setup including my Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro mount, cooled camera, and dew heaters, the 757 PowerHouse had 45% power left after 1 full night.

One thing I should note – if you’re using the power station to power your rig, do not use “power-saving mode”. This is designed to turn off when your device is fully charged, which is not applicable when powering your equatorial mount for an entire night.

Anker 757 Power Station Review

Anker 757 Power Station Specs

  • Rated Capacity: 51.2V 24000mAh / 1228.8Wh
  • AC Input Voltage: 100-120V~ 12A Max, 50Hz / 60Hz
  • AC Input Power (Charging): 1000W Max
  • AC Input Power (Bypass Mode): 1440W Max
  • XT60 Input: 11-30V⎓ 10A (300W Max)
  • USB-C Output 1: 5V⎓3A/ 9V⎓3A/ 15V⎓3A/ 20V⎓3A 20V⎓5A (100W Max)
  • USB-C Output 2: 5V⎓3A/ 9V⎓3A/ 15V⎓3A/ 20V⎓3A (60W Max)
  • AC Output (Bypass Mode): 100-120V~ 12A Max, 50Hz/60Hz, 1440W Max
  • AC Output (Inverter Mode): 110V~ 13.64A, 50Hz/60Hz, 1500W Max
  • USB-A Output: 5V⎓2.4A ( 2.4A Max Per Port )
  • Car Charger Output: 12V⎓10A
  • Discharging Temperature: -4°F-104°F / -20°C-40°C
  • Charging Temperature: 32°F-104°F / 0°C-40°C

The light bar is handy to have when you’re off-grid, and I am happy to see that it is a warm color temperature and that it is soft. A lot of the lights on portable battery packs use hyper-white, blinding LEDs. This one is a warm, orange color. 

However, I wish that there was a red light option to protect your night vision even better. I also wish that clicking the display button for a second time (when it’s on) turned it off, but it doesn’t. So, you may want to cover this up with tape if you are at a star party or a gathering where any amount of light needs to be shielded.

The manual states that the operating temperatures should be between 32 and 100 Fahrenheit – or 0 – 40 Celsius. That definitely puts a limit on the times of year you can use this power station, and it’s something to consider.

astrobackyard review

I use a portable power station to run my Celestron NexStar 8SE while camping.

Smaller Options for Astrophotography

Jackery Explorer 500

If you’re on a budget and prefer to keep your power station light and portable, the Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station is a great option to consider. This power station weighs just 13 pounds and is one of the lightest and most portable rechargeable lithium battery generators on the market.

Jackery Explorer 500

Jackery Explorer 500

The Jackery Explorer 500 has a 518 watt-hour (24Ah, 21.6V) lithium-ion battery pack and a pure sine wave inverter. It includes 1 AC outlet, 3 USB-A ports, 2 DC ports, and 1 car socket. Jackery also offers a smaller version with less wattage (Explorer 240) for maximum portability.

Bluetti EB3A Solar Generator

The Bluetti EB3A is another portable power station to consider. This one only weighs 10 pounds, yet it has a 268.8Wh capacity and features an impressive 9 output ports. This unit was named the “Best value portable power station” on CNET’s list of Best Portable Power Stations

This power station can be charged using the optional Bluetti solar panel, and even has a dedicated mobile app to monitor battery levels and output information. The Bluetti EB3A is an impressive unit that I hope to experience firsthand in the future.

Bluetti EB3A

Bluetti EB3A

If you need a lot of power, have a look at the Bluetti AC200P. This monster weighs 60 pounds and offers a whopping 2000 watts of power!

Togo Power Advance 350

The Togo Power Advance 350 was specifically designed for charging laptops, mini-cooler, drone, and other outdoor electronics. With 330W, it has more than enough power to handle running your astronomy gear for an entire night. 

The AC pure Sine Wave outputs will provide clean power to your devices. It features 8 output ports in total, including 2 handy 12V 10A DC ports for powering your astrophotography devices like the ZWO ASIAIR, and/or dedicated astronomy camera.

This unit can be charged using a solar panel in about 5-8 hours on the road, and also features a 10w wireless charging area for your smartphone. 

Togo Power 346Wh

Togo Power Advance 350

Final Thoughts

There have never been so many great portable power stations available to choose from. The price, wattage, and the number of ports on these units vary widely. The Anker 757 PowerHouse is an excellent choice, in my opinion, if you’re willing to pay extra for a heavy-duty power station. 

The car battery booster-style packs I purchased from the hardware store in the past, were a huge letdown. All of them would hold less and less of a charge over time, and would unexpectedly shut off in the middle of an imaging session. Thankfully, portable power stations have come a long way since then, and are much more reliable. 

I know that a lot of you have built your own DIY power supply consisting of a marine battery, and an inverter. If you enjoy that type of thing (and know what you’re doing), by all means, go for it. You’ll likely save some money and get to work on a fun project. 

If you are more comfortable in the office than in the shop (like me), one of the many fantastic pre-built portable power stations is likely a better fit, and worth the added cost.

Be sure to choose a unit that has dedicated output ports for the astrophotography equipment you use most, and that it can reliably power your rig for at least 1 entire night before requiring a recharge. 

For now, I’ll continue using the Anker 757 PowerHouse on my astrophotography and camping adventures, and plan on getting a lot of use out of it for several years. I hope that this article was useful to you and that you have a better understanding of the options available in 2022. 

portable power station for telescope

Even More Options to Consider

Here is a list of options provided by the AstroBackyard community on YouTube and Facebook:

Related Tags

Upgrading My Computer for Astrophotography

|Equipment|25 Comments

I enjoy using a laptop for astrophotography over some of the other choices that are available. The latest computer I use for my deep-sky astrophotography sessions is the Acer Enduro N3

Acer reached out to me to test their new line of rugged laptops in 2020, and I am happy to report that it is a great fit for my imaging location. The photo below was captured by controlling my Canon EOS Ra camera with the Enduro laptop outside.

astrophotography

IC 1396 (5.4 hours total exposure)

In this article, I will describe some of the options available to amateur astronomers right now. As I said, I prefer the full control of a laptop for astrophotography, but you may want to build a kit with something a little more streamlined.

When this post was written, I had just upgraded my nearly 10-year old laptop to an affordable Lenovo Thinkpad. My decision-making process should be of value to anyone that finds themselves in this situation. 

Acer Enduro N3

I currently use an Acer Enduro N3 laptop to control my imaging sessions (Summer 2020)

Upgrading My Computer for Astrophotography

The computer I’ve used for astrophotography until now was a Sony VAIO with USB 2.0 ports, 2GB RAM, and a severely outdated processor. With new astrophotography hardware products hitting the market that demand faster and more capable machines, I knew the old Sony’s days were numbered.

The most recent of these products being the impressively small and powerful Pegasus Astro Pocket Power Box. I had some issues connecting to the device early on that I am convinced are related to my aging computer with USB 2.0 ports.

laptop computer

My aging laptop computer for astrophotography

The USB drivers are a complete mess on this old laptop. I probably could have wasted a few more nights under the stars troubleshooting the issue, but instead decided to channel the experience as a catalyst for a new machine.

(It’s amazing how certain situations in astrophotography result in the necessity for new equipment).

Update: July 2020

I’ve been sent a new outdoor laptop for astrophotography, the Acer Enduro N3. This is a rugged, military-grade (IP-53) notebook that was designed to handle the demanding conditions of the outdoors. The Acer Enduro N3 will replace the ASUS model I have been using to capture images with my semi-mobile setups.

You can watch me walk through the process of capturing images with my telescope with this laptop in the following video:

Controlling the Telescope, Camera, and Mount

I should state this right out of the gate, so there is no confusion about this post. The computer I recently upgraded to is for controlling my camera and telescope mount, not for processing deep sky images.

I use a more powerful (and much less portable) computer for photo and video editing, as I am sure many of you do. (It’s an ASUS ROG GL752 for those interested.)

The computer I’ll be discussing in this post is destined to spend countless nights next to my telescope. It needs to be lean and mean, so I can rely on it produce consistent astrophotography images with my equipment.

It must be able to withstand the elements and connect to all of my current and future imaging cameras and devices.

Trevor from AstroBackyard

My old computer for astrophotography on a cold night in March

A truly efficient computer for astrophotography will ideally only have the essential applications needed for camera and telescope control installed. A jack-of-all-trades machine that includes image-editing software, multimedia, and other unnecessary applications can slow down PC performance and introduce potential headaches.

The perfect astrophotography computer should be a no-nonsense PC with only one purpose, to reliably control your telescope and collect images. In this post, I’ll do my best to compare the most popular choices against the solution I ended up pulling the trigger on.

Options for Deep Sky Astrophotography

In July of 2018, I reached out the AstroBackyard Facebook community for advice on a new PC to control my telescope mount and camera.

The popularity and availability of portable “Mini PC’s” piqued my interest, but the thought of not having complete control of the device accessible at all times raised a few questions.

Needless to say, I had some serious decisions to make about the way I will be controlling my imaging sessions over the next few years.

After some great advice, I began leaning towards a high-end Intel Mini Compute Stick. Naturally, I loved the portability and size of this option, as it’s hard to imagine getting an astrophotography computer smaller than a pack of gum.

Mini PC Sticks

The ASUS VivoStick and the Intel Compute Stick are 2 popular “mini PC” options for running the Windows operating system. Raspberry Pi mini-computer systems are also quite popular, but I won’t be covering these as I don’t have any experience using one for astrophotography.

The Intel Compute Stick (pictured below) had the most attractive options for someone in my position. The model I was drawn to included a pre-installed copy of Windows 10,  4GB of RAM and an integrated wireless adapter.  These specs already topped those of my previous imaging laptop at the size of a USB drive.

Intel Compute Stick

The Intel Compute Stick with a Core m3 Processor

However, the price tag of the high-end CS325 model competed with laptop computers with similar specs (that include an integrated keyboard and mouse). I understand that the power and convenience of such advanced technology in a small size comes at a premium.

The slightly larger Intel NUC mini PC was referred to me by several happy customers, but again, the price tag is steep if you’re looking to get the model with high-end specs. The Core i7 version I was interested in included SSD/HHD bays but did not include any onboard storage out of the box.

Intel NUC

The Intel NUC with a Core i7 Processor

In the end, I concluded that a mini PC was not critical to my astrophotography configuration. My setup is non-permanent and having a single cable running to a powered USB 3.0 hub on the mount does not bother me. (for now)

My need for a new computer to control my astrophotography sessions was instigated by outdated hardware, not a desire to reduce the size of my imaging footprint.

Dedicated Astrophotography Computers

A number of astrophotography control computers have hit the market over the past few years, with the Prima Luce Labs EAGLE Core becoming a household name. (Well, in my household anyway).

I’ve seen the results of the Eagle Core control unit used by Sara Wager of Swag Astro, and Corey Schmitz of Photographing Space, and they both had great things to say about this product. As Prima Luce Labs puts it, this control unit is “much easier than a computer”. 

The ASIair is another interesting computer control option, and another product I first saw mentioned at NEAF. The ASIair can autoguide, plate solves, and of course capture images. It’s extremely small.

What I found interesting about this option is that ZWO specifically mentions that the ASIair was designed for wide-field astrophotography. In all of their demos and product images, they show a compact APO refractor on a GoTo mount.

ASIair

The ASIAIR imaging control unit

I’ll keep an eye on this one as it is a brand new product at a reasonable price. I know there is a huge market for these types of units and I expect future iterations to follow.

My Final Decision

After digesting all of the helpful information provided by vendors, peers, and fellow imagers, I finally landed on a decision to control my equipment I could live with.

I had a clear vision of the best astrophotography computer for my needs. Another Laptop.

Perhaps I am just too stuck in my old ways to embrace the incredible new solutions available for deep sky astrophotography. Or maybe I just like the thrill of a great deal.

The replacement for my beloved old Sony VAIO laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad 11e. Just a quick note, this is an older generation model that has since sold out, but the link listed is the closest comparable model I could find.

Lenovo ThinkPad 11e review

As cutting edge and impressive as the Intel NUC and Compute Sticks are, the lack of integrated display and steep price tag lead me to explore more options. I enjoy controlling my mount from inside the house on Team Viewer as much as the next guy, but I also want to be able to have complete control over each software tool while sitting next to my rig.

When I found a no-nonsense laptop with speed and performance in a small package on Amazon, I pounced. The Lenovo ThinkPad 11e has a 128 GB Solid-State Hard Drive – which means there is no fan to make noise or fault in the extreme temperatures of my backyard.

The best laptop computer for astrophotography

It also boasts a respectable 8GB of RAM, an Intel Celeron N2920 processor and an internal wifi adapter. All this in a highly portable 11.6” package – for $250 (CDN). The model I ordered was certified refurbished – which certainly helped reduce the price.

Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Specs:

  • 1.86 GHz Intel Celeron N2920 Processor
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 128 GB SSD
  • 2 X USB 3.0 Ports
  • HDMI Port
  • 11.6-inch HD LED anti-glare Display
  • 1366 x 768 HD Resolution
  • Integrated Wireless Network Adapter

With a clean slate on a Windows 10 machine, it was time to download each and every software tool I use for astrophotography.

This proved to be a great opportunity to share the current software tools I use for camera and telescope control, as I had to reinstall each and every application on a brand new laptop.

Software Downloads:

  1. Astro Photography Tool
  2. AltairCapture
  3. SharpCap
  4. PHD2 Guiding
  5. Pegasus Astro Power Box Software
  6. Pegasus Astro Focus Controller
  7. Team Viewer

Driver Downloads

  1. iOptron Commander
  2. ASCOM Platform
  3. USB to RS232 Prolific COM Driver
  4. ZWO ASI Camera Driver
  5. Altair Astro Camera Driver

To summarize, the new laptop will control virtually every aspect of my deep sky imaging sessions using APT, PHD2 and the Pegasus Astro software. My early tests using the Pocket Power Box have been promising. So far, I’ve utilized the temperature sensor, onboard 12V outlets, and even the dew heater controllers.

Pegasus Astro Pocket Power Box

A More Organized Approach

My goal for the remainder of this year is to get my imaging rigs organized in an effort to save time. With new telescopes and cameras to test and review each month, I have grown tired of scrambling to make things work under the pressure of a rare clear sky.

I’ll have two rigs ready to go that can be controlled using the new Lenovo laptop. Here is the new computer in use for an imaging session on the North America Nebula.

astrophotography setup

The new computer in use with my camera and telescope

I’ve still got some bugs (and cable management) to work out on my “ready for anything” rig that involves the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 equatorial mount and Explore Scientific ED 102 telescope. This setup includes the Pegasus Astro Pocket Power Box and Motorized Focuser.

This kit will be deployed for wide field deep sky astrophotography on nights when lugging the big CEM60 and a large telescope isn’t possible.

I captured 26 minutes of unguided subs on the Lenovo ThinkPad 11e laptop with this rig as a test to make sure everything was working properly.

deep sky imaging

Capturing NGC 7000 using APT on my new imaging computer

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is, invest in the type of imaging control solution that works best with your style and equipment profile. For example, if you have a highly-automated imaging setup in a permanent observatory, an onboard mini PC connected to a wifi tablet is probably the most convenient option.

The EAGLE Core and ASIAIR offer an impressive user experience for amateur astrophotographers that want to control everything from their smartphone. This option may seem like the obvious best choice, but for backyard astrophotographers without a permanent setup like me, it’s nice to have the practicality of a traditional laptop computer.

 

I spend a lot of time outside with my rig while it’s running. It will be interesting to see if the new mini PCs and dedicated control units like the EAGLE Core are the preferred choice for beginners getting into the hobby. Anything that can streamline a complex and involved process is sure to be a hit with consumers.

Having been in this game for nearly a decade, I guess you could say I’m “old school”. If you’ve used a mini PC or any of the specialized astrophotography computers mentioned in this post, please let me know how it’s working for you in the comments.

Related Tags