I’ve been running my NexStar 6SE scope in the field using an old 12V 7-Ah gel cell battery for awhile now, but it’s kinda heavy and has to sit on the ground, meaning I have to pay attention to not getting the power cord wrapped around the mount as I slew the telescope. I really wanted to find something that was light enough to attach to the arm of the mount itself but still had enough power in it to run the scope for at least an evening. Surfing some of the message boards, I found several reports of people using battery packs from TalentCell. The message board posts claimed up to several nights of observing with their battery packs. It sounded like I had found the answer.

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Wifi Connections Between Scope and Laptop

So, this installment of the series didn’t work out quite like I expected. While, in theory, everything I describe below ought to work, I found problems maintaining the wifi connectivity between the NexStar mount and my laptop. Thus, all I can say is give it a whirl if you want, but I make no guarantees. I’m leaving the instructions up here in case you feel the need to give it a try. If you really want to use your laptop to control your NexStar scope, wired is probably best (although I’ve had some success with bluetooth, too, which I’ll cover in another installment).

In Part 2 of this series we went over the basic setup for connecting your NexStar to a laptop using a wired connection. It works great, but cables between your telescope and laptop can be a real nuisance, because you have to start worrying about the cables wrapping around the telescope as it slews in azimuth (although turning “Cord Wrap” on in the hand controller can mitigate that). In general, cables in the dark seem to me like a recipe for disaster. So in this installment, we’re going to cover connections between telescope and laptop using Wifi. (The next installment of this series will cover using a smartphone or tablet instead of a laptop to connect with the NexStar via wifi.)

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Wired Connections Between Scope and Laptop

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed some of the reasons why you might want to use your laptop or tablet to control your NexStar, and went over some of the options for how you can accomplish that. In this part of the series we’ll get a laptop set up to control your NexStar using the Stellarium software package through a wired connection between the scope and the laptop. With Stellarium, you’ll be able to point and click to easily slew your scope to any object you’d like. Stellarium also is capable of showing a ton of information about that object. It also provides a very pleasing and easy-to-use interface. We’ll go through the process from start to finish. Even if you decide to use a different connection type (WiFi or Bluetooth), the instructions for Stellarium will remain pretty-much the same.

The fundamental requirement for controlling your NexStar with a computer of some sort is, of course, establishing communications between the two. As far as I know, a wired connection can only be done between a computer with a serial port or a USB port and the scope–tablets are not supported for wired connections (but let me know in the comments below if you know of a way).

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Having recently gotten myself a new Windows 10 laptop (an Acer Aspire E 15 that I really like), I’ve been going through the process of getting everything set up and installed the way I like (I’m kinda anal retentive about that). That gives me cause to explore new possibilities, like “how can I get my Google contacts and calendar (from my Android phone) to sync up with my installation of MS Outlook on my laptop (which I use for email)?” I’ve asked that question before but never found a decent answer. This time, though, I found a great solution, and it’s free!

GO Contact Sync Mod is a utility I found that runs in the background on my laptop, reaching out to Google’s APIs to keep my Google contacts and calendar sync’d with those in MS Outlook. It has a straightforward user interface where you can define the rules for reconciliation (like “if there is a conflict, the Google contact should overwrite the Outlook contact”). You can tell it how often to perform the sync and it will do so quietly in the background. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and it works so well that I forget it’s there.

(Why don’t I just use GMail and omit MS Outlook entirely? I have my own domain, including email addresses, so I don’t use a GMail address. And I much prefer MS Outlook’s interface to GMail.)

Links to other parts in this series:

Introduction and Overview

Since I purchased my Celestron NexStar 6SE a few years ago, I’ve enjoyed dorking around with the different ways I can drive the thing with a computer of one sort or another. Of course, you can use the NexStar SE just fine with only the hand controller, but where’s the fun in that? Truthfully, while it’s certainly usable, the hand controller’s interface is a bit on the clunky side–especially when wading through its menus to find some DSO to which you’d like to slew. I much prefer to be able to use a planetarium app like Stellarium or SkySafari to find and slew to objects of interest.

As I investigated the possibilities, I learned that there are quite a few different ways you can control your NexStar SE with a computer. For starters, the connection between your scope and the computer can be wired (through a serial or USB port), WiFi, or even Bluetooth. Then, once the connection is established, you have quite a few apps from which to choose to do the actual controlling. All of the possible configurations of connection and control have their positives and negatives, and which one might work best for someone depends largely on their own personal preferences.

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If you’ve been geeking out for a couple decades, chances are you at least saw the Radio Shack ProbeScope at some point in time.

The Radio Shack ProbeScope
The Radio Shack ProbeScope

I bought one back in the late ’90s and found it to be fairly handy for a number of things. Its sampling rate, as I recall, was 4MHz, meaning you could use it to at least detect the presence of RF in a circuit. I also used it to help me debug the code I wrote to emulate serial communications in the microcontroller for my Digital Setting Circles project.

The ProbeScope included a floppy disk with software on it for both DOS and Windows that allowed you to view the waveforms on your PC by connecting the ProbeScope to the PC’s serial port. Alas, the software was written back in the 16-bit days and won’t run on the 64-bit operating systems on most modern PCs. Plus, who has a floppy drive to read that disk anymore? But if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know I have a habit of finding ways to revive old but still useful technology that’s long since been left behind.

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After having not touched the bluetooth-serial interface I built for over a year, I pulled it out of the drawer recently and found it to be dead–specifically, the BT2S module. Seeing that a replacement was going to be $17.95 plus shipping, I began looking for alternatives. I selected the BT2S specifically because it worked at +5V voltage levels. There are a number of similar-looking modules on eBay that sell for much less, but they all use +3.3V supply and logic levels (search for HC-06 on eBay and you’ll see what I’m talking about). Could my circuit be converted to run at 3.3V?

It turns out the answer is yes. I was able to modify the circuit to operate at 3.3V by replacing the MAX232 chip with a MAX3232, the 78L05 voltage regulator with a 78L33 3.3V regulator, and the BT2S with one of the HC-06 bluetooth slave modules available from Amazon, eBay, and several other sources. No changes to the circuit board are needed. I’ve added details on the changes to the project page.

One of the things that intrigued me about my new Elecraft KX3 is that it has a built-in serial interface (the ACC1 port). I thought it might be a fun project to see if I could interface it with my Google Nexus 7 Android tablet via bluetooth, reminiscent of my old GOLog project with the Serial Sender. I couldn’t find much in the way of Android apps that would interface to the KX3 in a useful way, but I decided to put together a bluetooth-serial interface and then see if I could write an app of my own that might be handy for, say, SOTA activations and Field Day.

Although I haven’t gotten anywhere yet with writing my own Android app, I did come up with a bluetooth serial interface that works with the KX3. The detailed project description is here. A PC board is available from FAR Circuits, and the project is designed to fit nicely into an enclosure with a built-in 9V battery compartment.

My bluetooth-serial interface
My bluetooth-serial interface

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So, you probably saw the post I put up a day or two ago about having just gotten a Celestron NexStar 6SE telescope. I’ve been having a ball with it so far. My plan last night was to try using my digital camera to take some video of Jupiter and then run it through Registax software to see what came out of it. I followed the instructions posted on this page at Stargazer’s Lounge. I can’t claim to have done anything original here–just followed the cookbook.

My final image of Jupiter, created from video processed by Registax
My final image of Jupiter, created from video processed by Registax

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I’ve never been crazy about my Meade Starfinder 8″ equatorial Newtonian telescope. The optics seem fine, but the mount is heavy, hard to move, and hard to use. Even with my digital setting circles it’s difficult to get the thing pointed exactly where you want it, and a modest breeze can make it almost unusable. Even getting it set up was a chore. So I didn’t really use it much, and I felt bad about that. So, a week ago I decided to buy myself a new telescope, and this time I chose something much more compact–a Celestron NexStar 6SE SCT.

My new Celestron NexStar 6SE on my living room floor just after unboxing
My new Celestron NexStar 6SE on my living room floor just after unboxing

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