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Wireless Telescope Control for Celestron (and Compatible) Scopes


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Wireless Telescope Control for Celestron (and Compatible) Scopes

Introduction

Wireless control of telescopes is quite handy as it frees the observer from being tethered to the scope mount by a wire.  In fact it is clear that this is the wave of the future.  Astronomy equipment tends to lag behind the technology curve—Celestron’s hand controllers are about 20 years out of date in terms of display, wireless capability, and other areas.  (Vixen’s StarBook controllers are an example of a more modern design but they are not wireless).  Fortunately it is possible to not only add wireless capability, but do so with equipment that most astronomers already have (smartphones, tablets) and that can handle observing lists, display planetarium views, give detailed information on objects observed, and even in some cases speak object descriptions.  In this review I want to compare briefly the two major ways to implement wireless control of Celestron telescopes: (1) WiFi, using the Celestron SkyPortal (#93973) and (2) Bluetooth, using a serial Bluetooth adapter.  Both of these methods allow you to align your scope, slew your scope at various speeds, and go to specific celestial objects or coordinates.  They differ in other ways which I discuss below.  There is one disadvantage of wireless control using smartphones and tablets, namely the lack of tactile feedback, which the Celestron hand control does provide to some extent--my fingers are always pressing the wrong keys if I’m not looking, but at least I can feel the keys.  On smartphones and tablets, the telescope slewing keys are just part of the display.

 

SkyPortal WiFiBluetooth Unit with Celestron Serial Connector

My Background

I have been doing astronomy since the early 1960s, when I got my first telescope (an Edmund Scientific 4 ¼” reflector).  I am an electrical engineer, so I like to try new technologies to make astronomy easier and more fun.  I have had many telescopes but now use an 11” Celestron Edge HD on a CGEM mount, and (for portability) an 8” Celestron Edge HD on a CG5 mount.  I generally use my scopes on my roof, which serves as an observatory.  I live in the middle of Washington, DC, so light pollution is a significant problem.  But I can travel easily with the 8” scope for darker skies.

 

Celestron SkyPortal

The Celestron SkyPortal WiFi adapter is very simple—you just plug it into the Aux port of your scope, or the Hand Controller port if you do not have an Aux port.  No auxiliary power supply is required.  The SkyPortal replaces your hand controller.  YOU CANNOT USE BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, i.e., during the same observing session.  That is, you cannot, say, use the hand controller for alignment, and then switch to the SkyPortal.  To switch from one to the other you have to turn the scope off.  The SkyPortal adapter allows you to do alignment and move the scope to various positions so that you can observe objects in the sky, more or less as you do with the hand controller, but wirelessly.  In order to operate the SkyPortal adapter, you must use a smartphone or a tablet computer (or any other computer with WiFi capability).  Celestron provides a smartphone/tablet program called “SkyPortal” which runs on Apple and Android devices.  This is a stripped-down version of SkySafari 4, which can also be used (highly recommended, by the way).  The Celestron version is free, but lacks many of the nice capabilities and databases of the paid SkySafari 4 program.  It does however have one very handy feature: it speaks the description of many objects, allowing you to listen while you are observing.  Configuration is very easy: just search for networks on you wireless device.  You will see the SkyPortal.  Select it and you will be connected in a few seconds.  Make sure that your smartphone/tablet is set for the SkyPortal: on SkySafari, press the “Settings” icon and go to “Telescope,” then “Equipment”.  Choose “Celestron WiFi”.  Then go to “Communications Settings”, and select “Connect via WiFi”.  The main disadvantage of the SkyPortal device, as mentioned earlier, is that you cannot use it together with the hand controller.  Since the hand controller has some specialized functions, such as Precise Go-To, you lose some functionality. Note: many websites will try to sell you a splitter to use with the SkyPortal; unless you are using another accessory you do not need the splitter.  It will not allow you to use the SkyPortal and the hand control (I tried it!).  The SkyPortal is very light and very small, as shown in photo below.  Also shown is a photo of the SkyPortal installed on a CG5 mount.

 

Bluetooth Serial Transmitter

Bluetooth control requires a Bluetooth serial transmitter, and an auxiliary power supply.  See my article on Cloudy Nights that explains the hardware required and how to set it up, or email me and I’ll send you a copy.  Initial configuration of the Bluetooth connection is a bit of a hassle, but once done, it works extremely well, requiring no modifications for your observing sessions—just plug the transmitter into your hand controller using a standard Celestron cable and turn it on.  Since the Bluetooth transmitter plugs into the hand controller, it works through the hand controller, so both can control your scope at the same time.  For example, you can set up and align with the hand controller, and then switch to using your wireless connection.  Of course you can go back at any time to the hand controller and use it.  That is, you can switch back and forth between the hand controller and the wireless control.  This is the major advantage of using Bluetooth.  You will need a program such as SkySafari in order to utilize the Bluetooth capability.  As of a year or so ago, Apple devices would not work with this Bluetooth configuration; that may have changed—I am not an Apple user.  Make sure that your smartphone/tablet is set for the Bluetooth link: on SkySafari, press the “Settings” icon and go to “Setup,” then “Equipment”.  Choose your mount type, e.g. “Celestron AVX/CGE/CGEM”.  Then go to “Communications Settings”, and select “Connect via Bluetooth”.

The reason I like wireless control is that it allows me to plan my observing session, download it to my tablet, and then carry it out easily.  The tablet gives much more information than the Celestron hand control, and shows on its planetarium display the object you are looking at and the position of your scope.  My preferred method is to use Paul Rodman’s excellent program AstroPlanner to plan my observing session, and then export it as a .skylist file.  (Other programs, such as SkyTools, can of course be used).  I transfer the .skylist file to my Dropbox account, which I can then access from my tablet.  The tablet then downloads the .skylist file to the correct location on the tablet, and I can access it from the SkySafari program.  I use a Samsung 10” NotePro tablet, which has a beautiful display, but others of course will also work.  Smaller 7” tablets fit into many cargo pockets, though they are not as easy to read.  Smartphones can be used but their screens are not as large as that of the tablets, so not as much information is displayed.  The Sky Safari 4 Pro version costs about $40, and is worth every penny.  Cheaper versions with less capability may also work, but I have not tested them.

Summary

 

SkyPortal

Bluetooth

Ease of setup

Easy

Initially some hassles, then easy

Power

Gets power from mount

Requires external power supply

Use together with hand control

No

Yes

Interrupts normal WiFi (e.g., Internet)

Yes

No

Program needed

SkyPortal, SkySafari 4

SkySafari 4

Cost (hardware only, no software or phone/tablet)

~$100

~$150

 


  • Procyon, Greg-O, rreddt2go and 5 others like this


67 Comments

I almost never touch my HC after initial alignment is complete (with the StarSense on my CGE It's silly easy).

I use a discontinued StarryNight BT adapter but those in the know can easily make one as seen in this thread.

Also, AFAIK Apple still hasn't allowed third party access to BT.

 

Mike

    • StarCurious and GeeVee like this

With the Skyportal WiFi device, you do have some limited use of hand control. For example, when I do my alignment routine using SkySafari, I can still use the physical direction arrows on the hand control to move the mount to the alignment targets. Once alignment is done, I use SkySafari for go-to's, and then use the hand control directional buttons if necessary to center my target in the eyepiece. 

    • JHollJr, GeeVee and Bdido like this

I too have the Skyportal WIFI device. The Celestron app on a tablet for control. I agree that the limitations of a touch screen do come into play. Not having a physical button set makes looking at the tablet mandatory. I do like to use this set up though especially for public outreach events. It gets a lot more people interested and involved. I guess you could call it the Cell Phone Culture effect. I would like to see (or try to make) a send / receive pair of devices. One for the controller to plug into and one for the mount. As it is I opted for an extension cable that gives me a lot more freedom of movement around and from the main scope when not using the WIFI. There is another rather cool piece of hardware from Mallincam (99% sure about that) that transmits what you are imaging to nearby smart devices via WIFI.

    • Hallzers, redsky68 and GeeVee like this

I use Simulation Curriculum's SkyFi for wireless control of my CG-5. It's the same company that publishes SkySafari and integrates with the software quite well. It plugs into the HC serial port with the adapter cable that came with the mount. The only "knock" is that you have to supply power to it, either 4-AA batteries, or the included adapter. The SkyPortal WiFi appears to be powered through the mount and I would be interested in purchasing it if I didn't already have the SkyFi. The range of the WiFi would be interesting to know. The discontinued Starry Night BT adapter appears to have been rebranded as the SkyBT (Simulation Curriculum also publishes Starry Night) so that's another option.

Another option if you don't mind losing access to the serial port on the bottom of the handheld remote: 

 

http://www.cloudynig...bluetooth-cgem/

Has anyone tried the Skyportal wireless interface with any other, "non-Celestron"mounts. I have an AS-CG-5 mount, I want try it on, but I also have a couple of old classic Meade LX200 mounts that I would like be able to conto via a wireless connection.  This looks like a very "clean"way of interfacing! I also, currently have Sky Safari 4 Plus running on Samsung Note tablet.

    • Rangerjoe likes this
Photo
sonny.barile
Jun 04 2016 06:42 PM

I have the Celestron device and use Skyportal on my iPhone. I like it but who at Celestron picked the aux port location on the Nexstar 8se? The device is in the path of the scope when viewing at zenith...........

 

This was either a decision made by an accountant or a very inexperienced engineer.......

I was going to look for a little extension cord for the aux port with my Skyportal wifi adapter to give it more room when at zenith. 

My problem is that I purchased the Skyportal device at NEAF this year and found out my older Nexstar 11 GPS may be the only Celestron Nexstar that is not compatible with the Skyportal.

Anyone know any ways around this?

I got this with my first goto scope the cpc deluxe 800 hd, and it works flawlessly. I dont miss the hand controller, and in fact i never got used to one, so much easier to pull up object on the app rather than the hand controller. I have found that after only a couple of nights, I am learning to hit the alignment buttons on my iphone without looking, and its great to have a friend looking at say jupiter, and i can just use my phone while they are sitting there viewing and tell the scope to go right over to saturn without me getting out of my chair.  very cool and so easy.

RS-232?  Is this 1995?.  Also, nothing like having fragile components sticking out of a mount, in the dark...

Regarding using wireless and the hand controller together, I have a Celestron Evolution with the built in wireless. I am able to align using SkySafari 4 (on Android) and then use the directional buttons on the hand controller, seemingly without loosing alignment. I can observe SkySarafi updating its positioning based on input from the hand controller. Does this not work with the wifi adapter described here? I find this combination of SkySafari and hand controller quite ideal. I align and navigate using the phone and then fine tune and journey around the area using the hand controller. I'm not totally certain but I think I have determined that SkySafari needs to be open and active in order for it to keep track of the hand controller movements. But as the Evolution also has a usb charging jack I can keep the phone active all night.

    • GeeVee likes this

Any posts on the StarSense by Celestron?

solaman57, just take the term "StarSense" and plug it into the Search Box at the top right of the page. Make sure the Search Box is showing Forums, to search through. So, yes, there are posts on StarSense. Good luck with your search.

Photo
StarCurious
Jun 12 2016 06:32 PM

I almost never touch my HC after initial alignment is complete (with the StarSense on my CGE It's silly easy).

I use a discontinued StarryNight BT adapter but those in the know can easily make one as seen in this thread.

Also, AFAIK Apple still hasn't allowed third party access to BT.

 

Mike

Mike,

 

I have Starsense on an SLT mount, SkyBT bluetooth, Skysafari 4 Pro for Android. After Starsense auto align, I use SkySafari to issue GOTO commands.  However, I don't know how to replicate the Starsense HC Option Sync process without using the HC, or the adding of Starsense alignment points to improve the model.  As well, there doesn't appear to be a "Precise GOTO" process in SkySafari. Any suggestions please?

 

Thanks,

Joseph

Joseph, I don't think there is any way to do those things with SkySafari/Android (no even sure with Apple/WiFi).

I rarely even do more than what the Starsense does initially and find my GOTO's/Tracking excellent.

If I did desire an additional "Plate Solve" (to Improve GOTO) I'd just do it when the Starsense was finished it's initial alignment.

From there I'd use SkySafri for all else as I normally do.

 

Mike

    • StarCurious likes this

StarCurious, and anyone else interested. I'm pretty sure that what junomike said is basically true, some things don't come up in the StarSense menu, or don't come up the same way. For instance, Precise GOTO, precise goto doesn't come up, but SYNC does. From what I've just read, SYNC seems to be the same thing, or pretty close. It's on page 16 of the manual I just looked at. Just google StarSense Sync and the PDF manual should be your first hit. I've seen it mentioned on CN also. Not sure if that will work with your stuff or not, but hope it helps.

 

SYNC
Syncing on a star will shift the mount model to the
star position . It will improve GoTo pointing in the
region of sky close to the star you synced on . Sync
can also be used if the mount was bumped or the
clutches were loosened for either axis . Sync will
restore the position of the StarSense GoTo without
using the camera .
1. With a named star selected, press OPTION and ALIGN simultaneously.
2. Coarse center the star in your finder or eyepiece and press ENTER.
3. Fine center the star in your eyepiece, finishing in the UP and RIGHT directions and press ALIGN.

Photo
StarCurious
Jun 13 2016 12:51 AM

StarCurious, and anyone else interested. I'm pretty sure that what junomike said is basically true, some things don't come up in the StarSense menu, or don't come up the same way. For instance, Precise GOTO, precise goto doesn't come up, but SYNC does. From what I've just read, SYNC seems to be the same thing, or pretty close. It's on page 16 of the manual I just looked at. Just google StarSense Sync and the PDF manual should be your first hit. I've seen it mentioned on CN also. Not sure if that will work with your stuff or not, but hope it helps.

 

SYNC
Syncing on a star will shift the mount model to the
star position . It will improve GoTo pointing in the
region of sky close to the star you synced on . Sync
can also be used if the mount was bumped or the
clutches were loosened for either axis . Sync will
restore the position of the StarSense GoTo without
using the camera .
1. With a named star selected, press OPTION and ALIGN simultaneously.
2. Coarse center the star in your finder or eyepiece and press ENTER.
3. Fine center the star in your eyepiece, finishing in the UP and RIGHT directions and press ALIGN.

outofsight,

 

Sync does come up in Starsense HC. That wasn't my concern.  I was hoping that SkySafari 4 Pro offers a Sync function without using the HC.

 

While Precise GOTO is not available in Starsense HC, a similar feature is.  In Starsense HC, choose an object and GOTO it, then press HELP (the "8" key), the scope will slew to a (bright) star near the target object - we don't get to pick nor do we know which star, and Starsense would ask us to center it, then press the BACK key and Starsense would use the centered bright star to more precisely GOTO the chosen target object.  I don't know of an equivalent feature in SkySafari.  What I would do is to send GOTO from SkySafari to target object, then look at the SkySafari display to find a nearby bright star, then GOTO that bright star, then center that bright star in the FOV, then press Align in SkySafari, then issue another SkySafari GOTO for the originally targeted object.  What I would like to know is whether the SkySafari Align is used by Starsense (or NexStar HC) to Sync with the Starsense Sky Model. 

 

I don't think a SkySafari Align will trigger a Starsense image capture and plate solving to create an additional Starsense Alignment Reference (up to 10 total).  I hope that such feature is added in future.

 

Thanks,

Joseph

StarCurious, sorry I misunderstood your question in reference to SkySafari. It seems like you have as good an understanding of this as anyone possibly could.

 

That is a good point about being able to "trigger a Starsense image capture and plate solving to create an additional Starsense Alignment Reference (up to 10 total)." StarSense implementation in SkySafari 5 is only in it's infancy so maybe that will come along.

 

It would be nice to be able to trigger a plate-solve whenever you wanted to, that should be a button on the hand controller and software.

I bought the Skyportal yesterday to use with a Celestron NexStar 8i SE that I bought in 2007 and SkySafari 5 for iOS. I can't get it to work with either my iPhone 6S Plus or iPad Pro 9.7. I can get SkySafari to connect to the wifi, but I get a message that it can't see the telescope (or the equivalent).

 

I've tried both direct access and access point with no luck and am thinking that Skyportal may be incompatible with old C8i SE's.

 

Any thoughts? Thanks.

    • oktwodogs likes this

Compatibility is an essential question, but barring a compatibility problem, is your SkySafari 5 (SS5) set up correctly? And I'm not even sure what "correctly" is for your C8i.

 

But I'm a little more sure than I was a minute ago. There is a setting for the 8i in SS5. Is that checked? Also, is your SS5 Plus or Pro? Is Alt-Az GoTo checked under Mount Type?

    • JHollJr likes this

Thanks very much for responding. Yes I've tried all the settings for the 8i in the telescopes in SS5 Pro, both on my iPad and on my iPhone. I've come to think that there is a compatibility issue with the 8i. It might be fixable with a firmware update, but I'm an "if it ain't broke" type.

 

I think I'll just send the Skyportal back to Amazon. I use the SS 5 Pro on the iPhone, then punch in the info I need in the HC for the 8i. I was hoping to eliminate a step, but I guess I can't.

 

Cheers,

 

Justin

Tried a connection with my MacBook Pro, was able to connect to the Celestron wifi, but still got the message that the scope was not responding. I give up. :-)

When it works it is quite cool, when it doesn't work it's an aggravating and frustrating waste of time. Without being able to see the the whole setup the only thing else I can say is check updates and try resets.

 

I've never had any software or computer problem that I couldn't fix with a hammer, not exactly kidding, but ignore me and try not to use a hammer.

 

Sorry it hasn't worked out. Also, you might want to call Celestron tech support, they usually do try to help, doesn't always work out but I've never talked to them when didn't try to help me.

Once again thanks. I returned the Skyportal via Amazon. Then went outside with my Questar and just enjoyed tooling around the skies. That's really what it is all about.

 

Justin

Photo
SDTopensied
Jun 15 2016 10:51 PM

I believe the 8i is on the SkyPortal's list of incompatible scopes.

 

Reach out to Tony Costanzo and check out ScopeCom 2 from Astronomy Shoppe.  He's a vendor on Cloudy Nights and provides great support for his products.  I've been very pleased with all of my transactions.

 

http://astronomy-sho...m/?page_id=1684

 

-Steve



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