This page contains answers to the most frequently asked questions about our SkyFi wireless telescope controller.
Has SkyFi been discontinued?
Not at all! We licensed SkyFi to Orion Telescopes & Binoculars; they are selling it as the StarSeek Wi-Fi Module. Orion's version of SkyFi is identical to ours, except for the label on the box (and the logo in its software). Orion's StarSeek Wi-Fi module will work with our SkySafari iPhone app, and Orion's StarSeek iPhone apps will work with our SkyFi wireless adapter. They are fully inter-operable.
Will SkyFi work with my telescope?
SkyFi can wirelessly enable any telescope with a standard RS-232 serial interface. This includes almost every model by Meade, Celestron, Orion, SkyWatcher, and Takahashi. See the SkyFi page for a list of models that have been tested and are known to work with SkyFi.
Some Meade ETX models (60/80) ship with the Autostar #494 controller. To make SkyFi 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 telescopes that do not work with SkyFi are those that lack an RS-232 serial interface. Such models include all iOptron mounts, the Meade ETX-LS, and Vixen mounts with StarBook controllers. The first two models have USB interfaces only, and cannot be physically connected to SkyFi. We're working on a SkyFi wireless USB solution, and will announce it on our web site when it is available for purchase.
The Vixen StarBook controller uses an ethernet interface, which is also physically incompatible with SkyFi. However, you can use an Apple AirPort Express (or other wireless router) to control the StarBook from our SkySafari iPhone app or Carina Software's Voyager software on a Mac or PC. This document from Vixen explains how. You also need to configure SkySafari (or Voyager) to communicate with the StarBook controller at 169.254.1.1 on port 80.
What kind of range should I expect from my SkyFi wireless controller?
It really depends on the environment. Outside, at night, in an RF-quiet environment with no other WiFi networks around, performance is best - we've had users report being able to control their telescopes from more than 100 feet away! Indoors, with many other competing 2.4 GHz sources (other WiFi networks, cordless phones, etc.), range is much worse, especially if there are a lot of RF-reflective metal surfaces around. Frustratingly for us, trade show floors are among the most difficult environments for SkyFi! However, even in those circumstances, SkyFi should work reliably within a "practical" distance of a few meters from your iPhone/iPod touch.
Range also depends on the device that you are using on the other end to communicate with SkyFi. The antennas built into WiFi-enabled computers usually have higher gain (better sensitivity) than those built into the iPhone or iPod Touch - so their range and performance with SkyFi will be correspondingly greater. Home wireless routers usually have even better antennas, and even greater range.
What happens if there are two SkyFi networks in range, for example at the same star party?
This can indeed cause problems - you may be unable to talk to your own SkyFi, or worse, the other one may be able to control your telescope!
For this reason, we suggest that you rename your own SkyFi network, and/or turn on WEP security. If you do these things, then multiple SkyFi networks can co-exist in the same physical area, just as multiple WiFi networks can co-exist in the same coffee shop.
I can join SkyFi's wireless network, but I can't control my telescope - I get an error message that says "the telescope is not responding". What should I do?
Make sure you've selected the correct telescope type (in Voyager or SkySafari). Make sure your telescope is turned on, aligned, and (for a few models) set to use "RS-232 mode" which will let it accept external commands. The SynScan controllers supplied with some Orion and SkyWatcher telescopes must not be in "PC-DIRECT" mode in order to respond to external commands. Check your telescope owner's manual for details.
Also check that the serial cable is securely connected to both SkyFi's RJ-11 jack and to your telescope's serial port. Make sure the cables are not kinked or bent. Also make sure you've connected the cable to the correct RS-232 port on your telescope, and not the AUX port, autoguider port, etc. For Meade LX-200 and LX-400 telescopes, the RS-232 jack is on the mount base; for Meade ETX telescopes with Autostar controllers, and all Celestron and Orion models, it's on the bottom of the NexStar or SynScan hand controller. For other models, or if you are unsure, check your telescope owner's manual for details.
Also, make sure you're using the correct serial cable for your telescope! Different telescope types require different serial cables. If you've built your own cable for connecting SkyFi's serial port directly to your telescope's serial port, make sure that the pinout is correct. Please note that Southern Stars does not provide support for building custom serial cables.
If you are running on a Mac or PC, other software on your computer may be blocking its network connection to SkyFi. Firewalls, anti-virus, and web or e-mail proxy software are likely culprits. Try turning them off, then browse to http://10.0.0.1/ to see if you can view SkyFi's configuration web page. If not, something else is blocking network access to SkyFi.
Further troubleshooting may require a process of elimination. If you have a copy of SkySafari for Mac OS X running on a laptop or desktop computer, you can try making a direct serial connection to your telescope. (Note: this may also require a USB-to-serial adapter.) If successful, you can rule out your telescope's serial cable as the source of the problem. Also try updating SkyFi's firmware using the serial adapter cable supplied with SkyFi. If successful, that rules out the SkyFi adapter cable.
If all else fails, you can mail your SkyFi back to us, and we can take a look at it. We test all of our SkyFi units before sending them out the door; however, it's possible (but exceedingly unlikely) that your unit may have been damaged in shipping.
For more suggestions, see the Troubleshooting section on the SkyFi Scope Communication page.
I can control my telescope using SkyFi, but I'm experiencing frequent communication dropouts. What can I do?
The number one culprit is usually low batteries, either on SkyFi, or on your iPhone/iPod touch. Try replacing SkyFi's batteries, or using external power. Also make sure your iPhone/iPod battery is well-charged.
Another culprit is RF interference from other WiFi networks or 2.4 GHz cordless phones. This is more difficult to fix, but you can try by changing the WiFi channel that SkyFi is using. You might also want to try reducing the telescope communication update rate in the SkySafari app.
If you are running the SkySafari iPhone app, go to the Telescope Communication settings view. If there is a "Keep Alive" switch, turn it OFF. This setting has been problematic for some users, and has been removed from SkySafari 1.5 and higher.
If you are running Voyager 4.5 on a Windows laptop, try updating your laptop's WiFi driver software. For example, HP laptops with Broadcom 43255 WiFi chipsets are known to disconnect frequently; updating to driver version 22.214.171.124 solves this problem.
If you have an iPhone 3G or 3GS, go to the main iPhone Settings app, then go to the General > Network section. Find the "Enable 3G" switch, and turn it OFF. For some reason, the 3G network seems to bring down the iPhone's WiFi interface periodically. You can turn the 3G network on after using SkySafari - in fact, just briefly turning this switch OFF and ON again sometimes seems to clear the problem.
Again, for more suggestions, see the Troubleshooting section on the SkyFi Telescope Control page.
My SkyFi wireless telescope controller is not working on battery power. What should I do?
Try changing the batteries (all of them!) Very rarely, a battery has a short-circuit inside it; this will prevent SkyFi from using the voltage supplied by the other batteries, even if the battery with the short is fully charged. Also make sure the batteries are inserted in the correct (+ and -) polarity orientation.
If you've tried fresh batteries, and SkyFi is still not working, use a small electronics-sized Philips screwdriver to open the case. Inspect the wires going to the battery clips to make sure they have not become un-soldered. If you have a soldering iron, you can try re-soldering them yourself, or you can return it to us for repair.
My scope (or its controller) only has a USB connector, like the iOptron GOTONova or Meade ETX-LS. Can I use a USB-to-serial adapter to make it work with SkyFi?
No. Two reasons: first, the thin USB "A"-style connector found on the USB end of all USB-to-serial adapters won't physically fit into the smaller square USB "B"-style jack on the telescope (or its controller). Second, the driver software required to communicate with these telescopes is only available for Mac or PC operating systems. To work with SkyFi, these drivers would have to be ported to SkyFi's embedded processor (which is not running a full-blown operating system like Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux.)
A USB-enabled version of SkyFi is currently under development. As of June, 2010, the SkyFi USB hardware, with the required "A"-style jack, is currently working in the lab. The bottleneck is the firmware. Obtaining the information from the scope manufacturers that is required to port their drivers to SkyFi's embedded environment has been challenging.