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Sky Commander Review

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With such a long dry spell in 2016, I started pondering how to get the most bang for my buck when I finally did get out with the scope. Just think. For the past fifty years, I’ve been manually searching for and finding objects, up to around two-thousand at this point. However, as time has worn on, I thought about it. On the past few observing sessions, going back a couple of years, my yield slowly dwindled.


With a couple thousand objects under my belt, there were not only fewer of the bright objects left to find, but there were fewer with key stars nearby to orient on. That’s right. When I aimed either my finder (but mostly my green laser pointer) at a spot and started mowing the lawn, I’d have to guess more and more on the spot and dead-reckon more than I wanted to in a relatively blank area of sky.

When we’re talking about faint smudges that are often barely within the detection threshold, or ones that only jump out at you if you know exactly where to look, they’re just too easy to miss “mowing the lawn.”

Turns out, I spent too much time mowing the lawn, failing to find the object, and having to move on to the next one. My yield dropped significantly.

One day, I was obsessing over Obsession telescopes. This was one of my rare moments of weakness. To be real, my current 16-inch was about all I could either handle or afford. I noted the add-ons and one of them was the Argo-Navis digital setting circles. The unit cost way too much and at the time, it seemed like they weren’t designed for my LightBridge scope. I’ve since heard they do have kits for them…maybe. Because of the price, I never researched it one way or the other.

My friend Jay, one of my observing buddies, used the Star Commander, sold through AstroSystems in Colorado. When I checked their web site, I found not only was it close to half the price of the Argo-Navis, but they had a direct kit for the LightBridge. It had every feature I needed and then some. Even if the Argo-Navis had a few more bells and whistles, they were things I didn’t need when I did a side-by-side comparison (like interfacing with a computer in the field, which I’ll never do).

It took a while to convince the wife, but right after we got back from vacation, I ordered one. As it turns out, it came right in time for our main September outing to Cathedral Gorge State Park in East-Central Nevada. This semi-annual trip is one of our two major away-from-town sites, the other being Furnace Creek at Death Valley.

I ordered the package and told the guy at AstroSystems I needed a rush on it for the star party. He was very nice and once I gave him the size scope (he custom makes certain pieces), I received the package the weekend before the event.

Installation was a breeze.

I had to remove the pivot bolt from the base and replace it with the one supplied for the azimuth encoder. At the same time, I not only cleaned the lazy Susan bearing on the bottom of the table, but I also replaced the rubber feet, of which I only had one left. Not to get off subject, but I contacted Meade in an attempt to get replacements. Let me tell you, I hope if you have a Meade product, it never breaks. Let’s just say I found what I needed at a local hardware store.

I replaced the bolt and added the encoder, a 10K version, enough resolution for this purpose. Yeah, competing brands use 32K encoders, but in the end, this one is just fine.

(for a closer look, click on the image to load full sized version in another tab)

As for the altitude encoder, this is where the custom part really came in. The side bearings are a different size, depending on the size of the telescope. The bracket that holds the encoder is centered and then double-sided taped on. From there, the encoder is mounted with the shaft facing out. A long insulated bolt is screwed into the side of the mount and a tangent arm attached with a fork in one end and a knurled lock screw that locks onto the encoder shaft. The issue is to make sure to remove it before lifting the OTA out of the cradle when breaking down the scope!

When I centered the bracket for the altitude encoder in place, I was worried about it being true. The end cuts, which fit the circle of the bearing perfectly, made it go on just right. With the tangent arm attached, I rotated the scope in place and there was no wobble with the shaft. Perfect!

This is the tangent arm stud.

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This is the bracket, encoder and tangent arm installed. Note the cable, which has a telephone-like connector, is also installed.

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As for the wiring, I routed it through the light shroud from the encoders up to right below the focuser, where I Velcroed the main unit on. I had a minor issue with the bottom encoder catching on the counterweights at the bottom of the OTA, so I added an open-ended plastic clamp (supplied) on the inner front wall of the base to slide the wire in to keep it away from the bottom of the OTA. Problem solved!

Here’s the open plastic wire clamp.

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Here’s the azimuth cable installed in the clamp.

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Here are the cables hooked up below, then routed inside the light shroud and ready to pull up top to the cage.

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Here’s the Velcro strip on the upper cage.

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The Sky Commander hooked up and the cables installed.

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When it came time to operate it, I powered it up with the internal 9V battery and tried to set it up in the garage. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing and thought I had it at least functional.

Wrong Grasshopper!

I found out the error of my ways when I got to Cathedral Gorge.

In the meantime, when I read deeper into the instructions, I discovered that not only would the unit not function well under 50°, but using the Fastrack mode, which allows use of the 10K encoders and moving the scope faster without confusing the computer, it drains the battery. The solution is external 12V. Uh oh. I had no plans for an extra battery pack or running power to the scope! My friend Jay came to the rescue. The solution? A jump start power pack from Harbor Freight for $50 or so. All I had to do was figure out what to do with it. The solution turned out to be simple. I installed two hooks on the front brace of the base and mounted it with a bungee cord. Problem solved!

(for a closer look, click on the image to load full sized version in another tab)

For the next short week, Monday to Thursday, I worried about what would happen when I put the unit to the test in the field. It was a good thing I always go to the Gorge a day early so I can get in more observing. I spent most of that Thursday ironing out the bugs in the Star Commander.

I had an opportunity to actually go through the alignment process on real stars and not just guess what I was doing in the garage. Since I did a quick Dobsonian setup at home, I missed one important step. So…when I set the date one day ahead (this is recommended so that the planets will be in place, due to Zulu time…don’t ask, I don’t know or care about the particulars), I first couldn’t get to step two, the alignment stars. Polaris was behind a cloud. Oh…kay. Now what? I stared at my green laser pointer and wondered if I’d be using it. Instead, I waited a bit and finally, Polaris peeked out from behind the high clouds drifting across the north.

Now, to find the second star, which had to be at least ninety degrees away. The unit used star names. Despite being at this passion for fifty years, I don’t know hardly any of the star names! Yeah, sue me. I don’t care about individual stars, except how I can use them to locate deep sky objects. I know star patterns, sometimes not even what constellation they are. It’s just not my interest. So…I had to look through the provided list for a star that I actually knew. When I checked my Tirion star atlas, though I thought it might at least give me the names of a few of the major ones, sorry…it didn’t name hardly any of them! Just great!

For the first test, I didn’t want to, but I settled on Vega, which was almost straight at the Zenith. Also, it wasn’t obscured by the few odd clouds still drifting over.

I bring this whole ritual of finding the stars for a reason. Once I had it aligned, I pulled an object from the database and tried to find it. Now I had another problem. I hit find, and it kept changing the object to another one. Aaagh! Back to the instruction book. When I finally figured out how to get it into find mode, I had another problem. It was also in random search mode as well. In this mode, as the scope moves, it identifies whichever object moves through the field. This is a mode you want if you’re just aiming and letting the unit do all the work. Turns out, my punching in objects was ineffective. Since it was in random find mode, it would automatically jump to whatever object the scope was aiming at. Or, so I thought.

Now, once I figured out how to shut the random mode off, (by the way, I never actually looked to see if I was on any of those objects), I finally put the unit in regular search mode. I plugged in M22, which was in the right area of the sky with no clouds. It was almost dark enough to see it with the naked eye. I moved the scope and followed the numbers. Uh oh, the scope moved in the wrong direction. Well, it moved sort of toward M22, but it was at the wrong spot. I re-read the initial setup instructions. It turns out for my model scope, I had to reverse the direction of the altitude encoder. I re-entered the entire initial setup and made sure all the bells and whistles were set the way I really wanted them. Fast track was on, random find (it’s actually called something else) was off, the encoders were the right direction, so on and so forth.


Now, I had to go through the alignment ritual all over again. Guess what? Polaris was gone again. Now, I had to sit tight and wait for the band of clouds to dissipate. In the meantime, one of my observing buddies and I watched a spectacular lightning storm to the southeast. Finally, not only did Polaris show again, but Antares, one of the stars I actually knew, showed way to the south, and a minimum of 10° up from the horizon. Woohoo!

Despite what others have said about unnecessary precision, I used a 12mm Orthoscopic to align both stars. I used it not only because of the magnification but because of the narrow, relative soda-straw field of view (45°). I figured if I centered both stars in that narrow field, I should have the thing pretty close. Turns out, my method works pretty well and I still use it now.

Once I had it aligned and with the correct parameters, wow! That thing worked fantastic!

I started finding object after object. They were never perfectly centered, or rarely, but with my 18mm 82° EP, they were always well within the 70° distortion-free zone. I learned to center the object, then look at the offset and go for that on subsequent objects. After a little practice, it worked like a champ, the objects close enough to center.

That first night, I found two Palomars and several open clusters which were custom objects I manually entered back home, plus some Herschels from the already installed database.

Then a funny thing happened. The battery went dead. Huh? I had a fully charged 12V jump start battery. There’s no way it could’ve drained so fast. Then I wondered if the power cord was bad. When I checked the power, it was in 9V mode. Turns out, the entire night it was never even plugged in to the 12V unit, even though the cable was attached.

By then, I’d had enough. It was around midnight, I’d at least found a few objects, and the next morning I’d either get some more 9V batteries or maybe a new power cord for the 12V unit, if need be. I was in no mood to troubleshoot things in the dark.

The next morning, I pulled the fully charged battery pack into the trailer and studied it, the cord and the Sky Commander. Sure enough, the Sky Commander 9V battery was almost dead. When I plugged the 12V unit into it, I got nothing. The power cable was brand new from Radio Shack and should’ve been good. I almost drove into nearby Caliente to look for another power cable but studied the one I had. Radio Shack sells all their cables with adapters. You buy a generic cable and get an adapter depending on what you’re plugging it into. When I unplugged the adapter, I noticed it had a polarity on it. I felt like such an idiot! I looked carefully at the markings, plugged it in right and then into the Sky Commander and wham! 12V power. As a precaution, I went into Pioche on a store run for something else, and grabbed a couple of 9V batteries just in case.

Between the next two nights, I found 70 objects, including Pluto for the first time confirmed since sometime in the 70’s. Back then, I can’t say for sure I actually saw it. The unit worked like a dream! The only other issue I had wasn’t with the unit but the battery pack. The cigarette lighter adapter plug has a green LED on it to let you know it’s plugged in and hot. Well…that little LED was pretty bright! That first good night, Friday, I ended up putting four layers of masking tape on it. It was still very bright so I rolled the plug until it faced down and at least it didn’t light up the whole front of the telescope!

Here it is lit up now, even through four layers of tape.

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The Sky Commander is an awesome tool. Because I had it, I was able to look for faint fuzzies, some in the mag. 15 range that I’d never find with the green laser and hunting and pecking method. There were no nearby stars to orient with. The two Palomars I found I’ve been trying to spot for several years. I never would’ve spotted Pluto without it either.

I’m very satisfied with this unit. Now that I know what I’m doing, the setup is very simple and using it’s a dream. At my last dark sky observing session, I’d call out the object from my Megastar pre-printed maps and my 11 year old grandson would dial it in and find it for me.

The unit has a capacity of 30,000 objects. It currently comes loaded with catalogs including Abel Planetaries (82), ARP Galaxies (338), Bayer Stars (1,564), Double Stars (600 select), Hickson (100), Messier, Named Deep Sky Objects (135), Named Stars (142), NGC (7,840), UGC (12,921), Herschel 400, IC (5,250), Barnard (343), Berkley (86), Collinder (471), Trumpler (34), Planets (8) and it allows for 59 user-defined miscellaneous objects.

I’ve filled up the 59 user-defined objects with Palomars and open clusters. As I knock them off, I’m going to erase them and add more. I must note that entering the coordinates is a bit odd. You only enter the major coordinates and not seconds per se. Only so many digits are allowed, but that’s enough to get you in the ballpark, especially with current wide-field eyepieces, and within their 70° zone.

Also, when I was at Radio Shack, I purchased a RS-232 to USB adapter cable so I could plug the unit into my computer for software updates. Well…the cable/computer doesn’t recognize the Sky Commander. It could be several different issues but so far, I haven’t taken the time to figure out what’s wrong yet. That’s something to keep in mind if you purchase one.

Folks, I do NOT recommend one of these for a beginner. Why? The simple reason is that I’ve been doing this 50 years and I know the sky. I know what to do if this system goes on the blink. For a newbie, if the system fails, they’ll have a useless and very expensive piece of gear. They’re going to have to pack up their toys and go home because they won’t be able to find anything. If you’re experienced at finding objects, or are maybe disabled and need this kind of assistance, it’s an outstanding unit that’s simple to set up and very easy to use.

For the experienced observer or the disabled, I highly recommend it.

  • Carol L, jrbarnett, okiestarman56 and 4 others like this


Ken Sturrock
Nov 12 2016 11:55 AM

Nice write-up. I'm glad that you're happy with the Sky Commander. I've had mine on a 4" or 5" refractor for about ten years now and I'm still pleased with it. While there are newer, bigger & fancier DSCs on the market, the Sky Commander certainly delivers.

    • Feidb and Tdesert63 like this

Is this a Sky Commander you're reviewing or a Star Commander? You use both terms. What is a Star Commander anyway? So you're saying you like it, but you can't use it when the temperature falls below 50°? Seriously? And was this a recent purchase? There are still Radio Shacks?


Confusing revlew. Sorry to be critical but I had a bit of trouble following along.

    • Feidb likes this



It's a Sky Commander. Typos.


It also works just fine under 50 degrees as long as you have it plugged in to 12V, which I explained, or thought I did. It's when you have it working through the internal 9V battery that it doesn't work well under 50 degrees. The reason is that it has an internal heater to keep the electronics working correctly and the heater drains the battery way too fast. I didn't know this at the time of initial purchase. That's in addition to the fast track feature which also drains the battery.


The night I first used it, the main source of battery drain was the fast track feature, though the temperature DID hover around 50 degrees. That internal heater may have also contributed to the 9V battery giving out so fast.


Since I got the 12V cable working, I've never had an issue. As a matter of fact, I hardly ever have to recharge the battery pack. It lasts quite a long time.


And...oh yes, and I share your shock., Radio Shacks ARE still around though a lot of them have closed and they're a ghost of what they once were.


I bought the Sky Commander (no, not Star Commander) the last week of August, 2016.

    • xrayvizhen likes this

Thanks for clarifying. I'm hemming and hawing myself between Sky Commander, Nexus DSC and doing nothing, or rather, trying to fine tune my manual azimuth setting circle and digital angle gauge so I can find something. It's getting harder and harder to star hop when the  brightest stars on a clear night are only magnitude 3. Like you, I'm not big on memorizing star names either.


I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    • Feidb likes this



You'll find your productivity increase tenfold with one, if you don't mind the expense. It took me a while to finally get to that point but I'm so happy now that I did.


I DID feel quite a sense of accomplishment finding so many objects manually, but after 2,000 of them, I figured I didn't have anything more to prove to myself. No need to beat myself over the head anymore.


I've also found that at outreach events, with less than ideal skies, like mag. 3 or worse, it comes in handy to find fuzzies that I'd never be able to find otherwise. That should at least get you in the ballpark for some viewing until you can get to a dark site.


I like your scope too, by the way. My original 16" is home-built, including the mirror, an f/6.4 and is a beast. I just dragged it out of the shed this afternoon so I can get it cleaned up to finally sell. It's time to let it go.


I wish you luck whichever way you go.

Hi Again...listen, I don't mean to be a pain but I'm doing a lot of pre-buy research, trying to understand this whole deal with DSC's and encoders and ticks per revolution and all that, and your review has helped me a lot, but the closeup picture you have showing the azimuth encoder says, "S2-2500-250-I-D-D".  Based on my understanding of US Digital's nomenclature, the "2500" after the "S2" means it's 2500 ticks per revolution not 10000. This is all documented on US Digital's website. Am I missing something? (The stuff at the end of the code means 1/4" shaft diameter, indexed, default torque & default housing.)


Look, if your Sky Commander is working fine whichever way you set it up and it's finding objects without any issues, that's the main thing. I'm just a nuts nuts & bolts kind of guy and like to understand the inner workings of the thing before I spring for one system or the other.

    • Feidb likes this

You multiply the 2500 X4 to get the steps. I had to do a double take on that one also.

Scott in NC
Nov 13 2016 07:07 PM

Nice review, Feidb.  Thanks for sharing your experience with the new DSC! :waytogo:

    • Feidb likes this

I've been using Sky Commanders for five years now, and see no need to upgrade in all respects but one. I have used it's capability to interface with a lap top computer, which works very well. The only drawback is the cord between the computer and the DSC's can be a tripping hazard for passerby unaware of the fact. Perhaps adding a Bluetooth or other capability of linking Sky Commanders to other devices wirelessly would be the only major upgrade Sky Commanders would benefit from other than future additions to its already large database of objects. I doubt I would ever see everything that is programmed into it even if I observe every clear night for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, they do work very well. The better I initially align the computer on the alignment stars, the more accurate the Sky Commanders are. There has been times when it placed objects dead center in the field of view even at 425X through my 15-inch. It does however, gets rather wonky near the zenith, but it's consistent and easy to compensate for. I find that I have to move the telescope to the right of the point where the computer thinks the object is, and it appears in the field of view. It could be because the telescope is slightly out of square somewhere, because it's less noticeable when used with my 10-inch. Which leads to another outstanding feature of the Sky Commanders, and that is the computer can be set up for as many as four different telescopes, and all the settings are saved to memory. In that way, I use the same computer unit on my 15 and 10-inch Dobs. The heated display is very useful in the very damp Deep South, and so is the ability to run off an external 12-volt power source. For me, that's a 12-volt sealed lead-acid battery mounted on the base. If there's anything I think that could be improved is the display, even on the low setting it's rather bright. I also like the red LED type of display better than the LCD, which is otherwise adequate but I feel the red LED is easier to read for aging eyes like mine. To keep the glow of the display out of my eyes, I simply used my welding machine to make a stalk to put the computer on for both telescopes. My telescopes are home built, so I had to make my own mounting hardware for the encoders, but excellent mounting kits are available for some commercially and custom made telescopes. While I agree that they are not for rank beginners, many folks can make good use of Sky Commanders. Trouble shooting them is not difficult, the instructions that come with the unit are concise and easy to understand by anyone who is a reasonably good problem solver. I always take along a star atlas and finder scope just in case something does go wrong and I cannot figure it out in the field. That aside, while there's more capable DCS's out there with more features and refinements, I feel Sky Commanders are a very good buy and do what they are designed to do perfectly. I have no plans to replace mine any time soon.

    • Feidb and Trenaj like this



That's interesting about the computer cable. Since I don't use an external computer, I don't have that issue but I was wondering about other people that do. Some of the setups with the other guys I observe with, especially the Mallincam guys, geez. They have cables running everywhere and they have to block off a bunch of space and mark everything just to keep people from tripping on everything.


As for the display, it IS a bit bright. I keep mine on the middle setting and it's no brighter than my red flashlight, which I use to read my star charts, which I use to determine which objects to look for. I just give it a moment for my eyes to adjust. I also have the added advantage once in a while of having my grandson along to dial things in for me. When that happens, I don't even need to look at the display, or rarely do, except if the object isn't quite there and I have to double check. 


I really love it so far.


Thanks for the comments!



Enjoyed the writeup and pics.  Thanks for the "honorable mention" also.

My installations have been more time-consuming since my dobs are homemade, and I didn't use the stock kits for the C14 mounts.  It is nice to have the ability to use the computer on different scopes.  Glad the DSCs have worked out for you.



    • Feidb likes this

Fred, I'm with you.  Once you've picked the low hanging fruit, it's time to fetch a ladder.  While not every star hopper I meet sticks to the shallows, many do for exactly the reason you state - as you go deeper and further off well-trodden paths, it's easier to get lost and while opportunistic travel can be an adventure at a certain point lost is lost and frustration the probable result.  Also the bigger the scope, the more it deserves tools such as DSCs to help take advantage of it's massive potential for "off atlas" travel.


While I use DSCs on my Dobs and,  I have 'em on larger manual alt-az mounts too, I'll mention an alternative I recently tried with decent success.  I've had a small GOTO alt-az mount for my PST and occasional small catadioptric OTAs for quite awhile.  I also have several smaller non DSC equipped manual mounts that I use for smaller instruments and binoculars.  By mounting an OTA on the GOTO alt-az (a Celestron Nexstar SE in my case), and mounting an Orion GLP finder bracket on the OTA, I use the GOTO mount and pointer to locate targets to using nearby instruments on non-DSC alt-az and similar mounts.


It's an interesting option since you can pick up a Nexstar SE mount (with capacity for up to a C8, so solid capacity) on clearance for $350, which is less than most DSC set-ups, all-in.  There are pros and cons, of course.  Pro is that you also have a GOTO mount that's noce for grab & go with smaller OTAs to complement your larger instrument.  The con is that if you rely on the GOTO GLP for target acquisition in the larger scope, you're setting up two instruments rather than just one.  And also some folks dislike GLPs.


At any rate, good, thoughtful article.


- Jim

    • Feidb and fergyferg like this



Thanks so much. I really appreciate the feedback. You bring up some interesting alternatives also. There are many ways to go about it.


All the best and dark skies!

Nov 27 2016 01:53 PM

Interesting read, I have one on my my freshly built 14" dob, as long as everything has no lash or wiggle it works great as a push to scope guidance computer. I am using larger bronze bearings on my ground board mount and longer arms on the other. 


I new about the 12v needed for fast tracking the screen heater so I installed a small 12v gel cell in the base. a 5amp one by my calculation should run it for 48 hours or so.


My biggest complaint is the green back light, on low its still just a little too bright, but I can live with it. I wonder if anyone has replaced its backlights with red LED's?


All in all a great system thats easy to run. 

instructions are clear, and I enjoyed reading about others experiences with the equipment. 

    • Feidb likes this

I'm totally sold on my Sky Commander. I run mine via an RS232 to blue tooth adapter. I use an inexpensive lithium battery pack (20 bucks on amazon) thats not much larger than a pack of cards and it runs the Sky Commander for dozens of sessions. I replaced my 'green' display with a red version (that is also a bit more temperature friendly). 


Sky Safari and Sky Tools both interface with it (not at the same time) just fine. Just a good little tool. 

    • Feidb likes this

Nice review.

Worth noting is that you do not have to use Polaris as a alignment star. Any two stars that generally meet the spacing requirements will do nicely. 

    • jayw65 and Feidb like this

Pezdragon. That's true. While I have known this, I've never actually tried it. For some reason, maybe my OCD, I'm stuck on Polaris! One day, eventually there will come a time when I'll have to just pick another primary, probably because of clouds or maybe because the view is blocked by a mountain or something. Thanks for bringing that up!

We use a Sky Commander on a C-8 and also on a home-made 16" Dob. It's on the scope you see in my avatar picture.


Have used this for almost ten years. We have used it when the temps were down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit during winters here, no problem. We added a thin balsa wood "collar" around the on/off button, because we were having problems with accidentally turning the unit off when we didn't mean to.

    • Feidb likes this

Interesting read, I have one on my my freshly built 14" dob, as long as everything has no lash or wiggle it works great as a push to scope guidance computer. I am using larger bronze bearings on my ground board mount and longer arms on the other. 


I new about the 12v needed for fast tracking the screen heater so I installed a small 12v gel cell in the base. a 5amp one by my calculation should run it for 48 hours or so.


My biggest complaint is the green back light, on low its still just a little too bright, but I can live with it. I wonder if anyone has replaced its backlights with red LED's?


All in all a great system thats easy to run. 

instructions are clear, and I enjoyed reading about others experiences with the equipment. 

I opened the unit and experimented with different colors of cellophane in front of the screen.

It turned out that dimming the LCD screen and keeping the letters sharp was more easily done with a dark blue cellophane.  Red made the letters blurry.

It made the minimum setting tolerable, but, even then, I have to face it away from me when I'm observing.

I added the cellophane to mine and the unit is still in use on my small scope many years later (on its second battery).

It definitely needs to be externally powered if it gets cold where you observe.  It wasn't even usable in the summer without an external power supply

where I observe.

The database was a bit small for my larger scope, so I moved on to another brand, but the SC is definitely a trouble-free unit.

    • Feidb likes this
Jun 10 2017 07:23 AM

I've used the Sky Commander on multiple mount types including EQ Fork Mounts, Dobs, DM-6 Alt/Az, and Losmandy G11 GEQ's. It is simply the most versatile digital setting circle interface made. Having used MegaStar 5 and SkySafari Pro beginning with Version 3 several years ago I have also grappled with the use of both tethered (uses a cable) and untethered (wireless) computer based star atlases and planetarium programs to plan and execute my observing lists. When Southern Stars (now Simulation Curriculum) first introduced their wireless SkiFi unit I bought one. With this tied into the Sky Commander and using SkySafari on an iOS device I have no cables to worry about tripping over any more. I never need to see the Sky Commander display after the two star alignment process is completed. Everything is managed from the iOS device. To maintain dark adaptation I use a red overlay on the iOS display, set SkySafari in monochrome mode, and lower the screen brightness accordingly. It's a sweet setup for running a night of productive observing! Though most of my observing is on "Push-To" mounts with the Sky Commander, I have also used SkySafari and SkiFi to control a number of "Go-To" setups from Astro-Physics and Losmandy making the combination a single User Interface for planning and executing my observing lists across every scope and mount type I typically use in the field. 

    • Feidb likes this

I never actually use the 12v option on my Sky Commander. At 40 or even 30 degrees, it seems to work fine. Below 30, the display changes slowly, but I still don't plug in the 12v cable. And I don't use the fast track. On my 18", it is a moot point because I cannot swing that scope around too fast. On my 10", it means I avoid spinning the scope and instead move it around from one end of the sky to the other. Not slowly, but just not a spin, My 10" is for portability, and I really don't want to have to carry a 12v battery.


The old Sky Commander version had a very bright display that required a cellophane lining on the inside. The current (black) version is tolerable to me at the lowest setting, but you can always add cellophane to that, too.



    • Feidb likes this

This is a fine article for the Sky Commander.  It's a far better system than people give it credit for!  I also bought my system from Astrosystems with their fittings kit for my 15" Obsession clone and it installed perfectly


The best lesson from this article is, really folks take your time and read the directions a couple of times through before installing, then setting up and using.  Save yourself frustration and wasted time.  Also Being and old star hopper I know the stars but again in the directions they suggest using a simple planisphere to figure out ahead of time what would be idea stars for any particular night or time you will be observing.  The two star calibration is a piece of cake.


The most important thing is mounting your encoders the very best you can on their respected centers of axis but it is also equally important that your alt & azm axis are square and perpendicular to each other!


Cudos to the author.  If you are like those of us who have lived your life as a star hopper you are in for a tremendous treat!!  The only use for my Telrad now is to align my calibration stars.  My first really good night I nailed 117 NCG objects in a few hours.  I had to stop and check the charts to find more to look at as my list for three nights was done in 3 hours! Also I believe like the author that using a higher power to center your calibration stars does increase accuracy.


I maybe had about 50 people (astronomy geeks) look through my telescope at the June RMSS and the nights before the eclipse at Glendo State park.  No one complained about the display being too bright but mine is mounted on the mirror box so when I'm at the eyepiece the display is about four feet away and on the low setting.  I've noticed and heard this complaint before but don't see it as a problem  but we are all individuals.  Another complaint is having to use buttons to move and select objects and tasks.  Yes, it's a bit of a pain but you quickly learn how it works and where the buttons are at by feel.  For almost $400 less I think it's a bargain.  I'm not too worried about exhausting it's catalogs.


Finally, I use a 12 volt batter pack attached to my mirror cell frame  that runs my cooling fan and the setting circles.  In set up be sure to select 12V if using external batteries.  I don't use the 9V battery because I use the "fast track".  I carry a fresh 9V in case I loose my 12V supply.  This setup gave me about 16 hours before needing recharge.  Also, if not using the system actively place it into standby mode

    • Achernar likes this

I have a SkyCommander and US Digital encoders on my 10" dob, and while I do like star hopping having a DSC really does boost productivity and invite wider exploration. Glad I got it, and it is very reliable.


I am about to branch out and experiment for the first time with an AstroDevices Nexus-II connected to the encoders on my dob and SkySafari on my iPad and iPhone (with some Sirius AstroProducts extra dark cling applied). The SkyCommander works as advertised, but the UI is very old school. I thought about the Nexus as I have seen one in use and they look like a big step up from the SkyCommander, but I like SkySafari even better. 


I also have a DoubleStar on order from Universal Astronomics that will have encoders and am envisioning the same approach with my refractors and SCT.

I have a Sky Commander on my 15" dob.  It does indeed help locate stuff.  My solution for external power was to use a holder designed for 10 AA batteries.  With 10 NiMH rechargeable's you get 12 volts and more than enough amps to make it thru several hours of observing and its small and light enough to Velcro in place.  (I used the same power solution to run the mirror fan).

Hi this is my first time on this forum I use the RV forum so I am thinking this layout is about the same. My question is I have a Celestron 102 GT nexstar 5 I bought back in 2012 at Costco. I am having problems seeing the moon or setup my three star pointers up. One thing is my stand is not tall enough for me to look through at the moon without putting it in the back of my pickup truck. This is my 1st telescope and it is a lot smarter than me I promise you.Any help or advice I would  appreciate..:)

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