Telescope Control with SkySafari for Android

Here's a video showing a pre-release copy of SkySafari for Android running on a Verizon Motorola Droid 2 Global phone, controlling an Orion Sirius telescope mount via a Starry Night BlueStar bluetooth serial adapter.

Pre-release version of SkySafari for Android, running on a Verizon Motorola Droid 2 Global phone,
controlling an Orion Sirius telescope mount via a StarryNight BlueStar bluetooth serial adapter.
Completely un-edited, raw video!

Using Wi-Fi

SkySafari for Android can control your telescope by either Wi-Fi or bluetooth. Unfortunately, most Android devices do not support Ad Hoc WiFi networks, such as generated by our SkyFi wireless adapter, by default.

A very few Android phones (e.g. Motorola Droid RAZR) do support Ad Hoc Wi-Fi networks out-of-the-box. If you're the lucky owner of such a phone, Wi-Fi is your best best for telescope communication, using a Wi-Fi to serial adapter - like SkyFi. If not, you can enable Ad Hoc WiFi network support on your Android device, but you'll have to root the device to do it. Since this will void your phone's warranty, we can't officially support this approach, but you're welcome to try it at your own risk.

Alternately, you can join both SkyFi and your Android device to an infrastructure WiFi network, such as provided by a typical home router - but then you'll need to carry that router with you, and find a way to power it, when you go to your remote observing site.

Using Bluetooth

As a result, we've also decided to offer telescope control in SkySafari for Android via bluetooth. This is something that isn't possible with iOS devices due to Apple restrictions. Initially, we developed bluetooth support in SkySafari for Android using the Starry Night BlueStar bluetooth serial adapter.

We can't offer support for every third-party bluetooth serial adapter on the market, but we've programmed SkySafari to use standard Bluetooth Android interfaces, so most should work. If you can configure your bluetooth adapter to control your telescope from a Mac or PC, it will probably work with SkySafari for Android.

Here is a list of common bluetooth serial adapters that are known to be compatible, and not compatible, with SkySafari. Some are battery powered, making them ideal for field use.

CompatibleNot Compatible

(*) For the US Converters adapter, see configuration notes on this page.

Please Note: mention of these products does not indicate an endorsement by Southern Stars. We do not offer support for troubleshooting configuration issues with third-party bluetooth serial adapters.

Using USB-to-Serial Adapters

Many Android devices have a USB port. We've been asked whether SkySafari can just use a USB-to-serial adapter to talk to a telescope. At this time, the answer is "no". For this to work, the Android device would have to be a USB host, and most devices are USB slaves, not hosts. Secondly, the Android OS would have to be running the drivers for that USB-to-serial adapter. As of this writing, we don't know of a single USB-to-serial adapter manufacturer that produces Android drivers. You can root your device, write your own drivers, and recompile the Android kernel if you want to take a stab at this yourself!

We've found one Android serial library that only supports a very limited number of USB-to-serial adapters, and requires Android OS version 3.1 or later. To use it, we'd have to limit our app to devices running Android 3.1+, which is a tiny fraction of the installed Android user base.

The situation with Android USB-to-serial adapters may improve in the future, but we have no plans to support any telescope connections other than bluetooth or Wi-Fi at this time.

Telescope Compatibility

Once you've located a compatible Wi-Fi or bluetooth serial adapter, SkySafari can connect to any telescope with a standard RS-232 serial interface. Models that have been tested and are known to work with SkySafari include:

Some Meade ETX models (60/80) ship with the Autostar #494 controller. To make SkySafari work with these scopes, you need to replace the #494 Autostar controller (which does not have a serial port) with the #497 Autostar (which does). Contact Meade to upgrade your controller.

The only models that do not work with SkySafari are those that lack an RS-232 serial interface. Such models include:

These telescopes have USB or Ethernet interfaces, which cannot be physically connected to a bluetooth or Wi-Fi adapter.