In times like these, we all need to look beyond ourselves. This project might help: OnStep is an open-source telescope controller, a device that controls a telescope to point at something interesting in the sky. Want to take a look at M31? Use an app on a PC or smartphone, select the object and the OnStep will pan and tilt your telescope until the Andromeda Galaxy pops into view.
Smart telescopes are not new: we’ve seen telescopes like the Meade LX90 that include smart controllers that can, with varying degrees of success, use GPS signals to figure out the time, the location and which way to point to see Uranus. These use proprietary controllers, though, and are generally expensive. OnStep is designed to be simple, low cost and buildable from off the shelf parts.
It is pretty hardware agnostic: the controller can be an Arduino, a Teensy 3 or even an ESP32. The PCB design can work with any of these controllers. The same is true of the motors that move the telescope, so you can build the device from parts that you might have lying around. Many of those who have built OnStep controllers have adapted older telescope mounts that are motorized but aren’t smart. Others have used older mounts and replaced the slow, inaccurate motors with more precise ones that make the telescope more accurate and smooth. The gallery of telescope builds on the OnStep wiki is a great place to start and see examples like this 30-year old Celestron telescope that was brought into the 21st century with a OnStep conversion, or this conversion of a 1960s telescope that adds a smart mount.
It’s a great looking project that has the basics mostly sorted, but which is still being worked on and improved by a dedicated group of users. While we tend to focus on ourselves in difficult times, sometimes it is better to look up in the sky and see that the stars are still shining.