iTelescope.net is an web based network of remotely controlled telescopes currently based in four areas. The service has telescopes based in New Mexico, and California in the United States, in Spain, and in Australia. Using a web browser, one can control or upload a planned observation that can reserve telescope time and execute automatically at the appointed time. It describes itself as a Self-Funding Observatory with most of the profits invested back into upgrading their operation.
I've known about the service for years, but with my own setup I haven't felt the need to check the service out. But with the seemingly eternal gray skies of winter, I decided to spend some time checking out the service with the hopes of at least doing some photo-metric observations with some type of consistency.
I started with the free trial that gets one a logon, and allows check out everything, but not take any pictures. After about two weeks I upgraded to the starter plan which for $19.95 for 28 days gives you 20 points, plus the trial membership gives you 40 additional points when you upgrade to one of their imaging plans. One point basically equals $1.00, and each telescope has different cost of points per hour ranging from 17 past 100+ for the larger telescopes that are billed in 60 second imaging only times. Slews, focusing, ect.. aren't counted.
With my newly acquired 60 points, and being a semi-proficient imager and computer person, I jumped in, creating an observation plan with their own online plan generator and made a reservation on one of the telescopes. Of course the clouds moved to New Mexico so the plan never executed. The second try met the same fate. Using the free ACP planner software, I updated the plan to include an addition target, then uploaded that to the telescope for the third attempt. The next attempt I woke up to emails with the details from the plan execution, and since I linked the account to my AAVSO account, the image files were uploaded to it, all ready to be analyzed. In addition the images are available on their site, and using an ftp client, downloaded them to my system. The next week, I edited the plan, as its just a text file and added a third target, and that executed without any issues.
Impressions of the system, it is very convenient to just upload a plan to execute in the middle of the night. One doesn't have get up in the middle of the night, or worry about weather, or cable snags. The automatic upload of calibrated images to AAVSO is a nice feature. The option of imaging objects from the Australian site is appealing, as it covers the sky I can't image from my location, although it tends to be more expensive than the New Mexico site. While not technically a disadvantage, I hate seeing the upfront cost of what an imaging session costs. Even though my personal systems probably cost as much if not more, I don't break it down as a cost per image. The image quality has seemed to a bit higher quality, although its hard to be sure as my plans intentionally defocus a bit for photo-metric observations.
I plan to continue using the system for at least doing photo-metric observations as the cost is relatively low due to low image counts and short exposures, and will most likely bump the plan up to the next tier for additional points.
I think its a good option for city bound dwellers, with access to wide range of telescopes and locations, and the price is reasonable considering caliber of the telescopes, mounts, and cameras that are used, plus the dark sky locations.