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Wireless Observing with Windows 10

Using SkyFi, Com2Tcp & Deep-Sky Planner

Going wireless with an observing setup is the goal of many observers. Doing so presently with Windows 10 is fraut with problems. Instructions available on the Internet are incomplete or inaccurate. This will surely change, but in the meantime, here are the author's experiences with setting up a wireless to serial connection using Deep-Sky Planner running on a Windows 10 laptop, SkyFi, Com2Tcp software and a Sky Commander. The Sky Commander could just as well be a telescope mount.

The overview of the situation is this:

  1. Deep-Sky Planner running on the laptop wants to connect to Sky Commander (or other device) through a serial connection. The serial connection is identified as COM1 in Deep-Sky Planner.
  2. A serial cable connects laptop to telescope. Sometimes this connection (RJ-11 to DB9) requires a USB to serial adapter on the DB9 end, but that is not important for this discussion.
  3. Laptop communicates with Sky Commander, but a problem arises when the serial cable gets in the way of observing, or it is too short.

To go wirelessly from laptop to Sky Commander (or other device):

  1. Deep-Sky Planner running on the laptop still wants to connect to Sky Commander through a serial connection, but we can use the Wi-Fi radio in the laptop instead of the cable, thus eliminating clutter. Deep-Sky Planner is available from Knightware.
  2. Since Deep-Sky Planner wants to communicate via serial, we need to trick it by using a 'virtual' com port. That means software intercepts the serial traffic and sends it over the Wi-Fi radio to another Wi-Fi device. This step is achieved in this example using Com2Tcp software available form AstroGeeks.
  3. Information is sent by Deep-Sky Planner from the laptop via Wi-Fi. We need something on the other end of the communication link to accept Wi-Fi traffic and convert it back to serial for the Sky Commander. This step is achieved in this examples using a SkyFi unit available from Simulation Curriculum Corporation and its affiliates.
  4. Once the information is received by the SkyFi unit and converted to serial, it travels through SkyFi's RJ-11 to DB9 serial cable which is connected to Sky Commander's DB9 to RJ-11 serial cable, and finally to the Sky Commander. Thankfully, the RJ-11 to DB9 cables are included with their respective products. The Sky Commander doesn't know that the information it receives arrived via Wi-Fi, nor does it care. The Sky Commander described in this step is available from Sky Engineering or its affiliates.

In trying to assemble the components for a working wireless system for observing, I ran into problems on steps 2 and 3 above - connecting to the SkyFi and connecting to the virtual serial port. These problems were directly related to the Windows 10 laptop. I did not have these problems with a Windows 7 laptop that I also used for troubleshooting. Solving the issues took some time, but it can be done.

You can read the entire solution or the one of concern:

Windows 10 doesn't connect to ad hoc networks Windows 10 needs to connect to SkyFi Deep-Sky Planner needs a COM port for SkyFi

Issue 1: Windows 10 computer doesn't connect to ad hoc networks like SkyFi

The SkyFi unit communicates via an ad hoc wireless network that it creates. An ad hoc network connects a computer with another computer or device for temporary communications. This is different from the type of connection formed between a laptop and the Internet.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 doesn't allow users to connect to an ad hoc network easily - using the wireless network panel attached to the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray. You normally click on the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray and click on a network identifier (SSID) in the panel, then you click Connect. Doing this with an ad hoc network spins the activity indicator but does not connect.

The procedure described below is detailed but most of it only has to be done once. Mercifully, the Windows 10 laptop retains the ad hoc network connection definition.

First, the SkyFi unit is presumed to have the default factory settings. The reset button on the back of the unit can be pressed to return it to this state. You can change a number of settings in the unit, but that is beyond the scope of this procedure.

  1. Turn on the SkyFi unit and the wireless radio in the laptop (if it was off).
  2. Notice that the SkyFi SSID appears in the Window 10 wireless network panel attached to the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray. If you don't see SkyFi in the panel, check the LED indicator on the back of SkyFi. It should be green if it has created the ad hoc network. If SkyFi's LED is green, make sure the laptop's wireless radio is on (step 1).
  3. Start a Windows command shell (type cmd.exe in the Search Windows box on lower left of the screen). You should see a window entitled Command Prompt.
  4. Be sure of the network identifier (SSID) of SkyFi unit. By default, it is SkyFi. If you are unsure, enter in the command shell window:
    netsh wlan show networks

    This should show an entry for the SkyFi unit that looks like:
    SSID 3 : SkyFi
    Network Type : Adhoc
    Authentication : Open
    Encryption : None

    where SSID is followed by a number that varies, and the SSID demonstrated here is SkyFi. The rest of the parameters shown depend on the configuration of the SkyFi unit. The values shown here are the defaults.
  5. Go to Open Network and Sharing Center in Windows. You can right click on the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray to get to this via context menu.
  6. Click Set up a new connection or network.
  7. Double click Manually connect to a wireless network.
  8. A dialog box opens where you define the ad hoc network created by the SkyFi unit.
    1. Enter the SSID of the ad hoc network into the Network name box. This should be SkyFi.
    2. Leave Security type set to No authentication (Open).
    3. Uncheck Start this connection automatically
    4. Click Next.
    5. Click Close.
  9. In the command shell, run this command:
    netsh wlan set profileparameter SkyFi connectiontype=ibss

    where SkyFi is the SSID of the SkyFi ad hoc network.
  10. Once you have done steps 1-9, Windows understands the network connection parameters and has saved them. You can connect to this network anytime in the future.

Issue 2: Windows 10 needs to connect to SkyFi

We have defined the connection to the SkyFi ad hoc network in Windows 10, but we still aren't connected at this point. We need to connect to SkyFi now and in the future, and we can do this fairly easily.

  1. SkyFi is still on and laptop's wireless radio is still on.
  2. Start a Windows command shell (cmd.exe) on your computer, or continue using the one opened above if it is still available.
  3. Run the following command to connect to SkyFi:
    netsh wlan connect SkyFi

    where SkyFi is the SSID of the SkyFi ad hoc network.

You can determine whether the connection has succeeded by looking at one of:

  1. Network and Sharing Center should show that you are connected to:
    Unidentified network
    Public network
    Access type No network access
    Connections: Wi-Fi (SkyFi)
  2. Click on the network icon in the system tray. This shows a list of networks detected by your computer. You should see SkyFi Limited (meaning you are connected to SkyFi which has no Internet access.)
  3. Open a web browser and navigate to The SkyFi configuration page should be displayed if laptop is connected.

For convenience, I created a batch file containing a single line: netsh wlan connect SkyFi . The batch file is on the laptop's desktop so that I can click it any time I want to start the SkyFi connection.

Issue 3: Deep-Sky Planner needs a COM port to communicate

We have established a wireless connection between the laptop and the SkyFi unit. The SkyFi end should be plugged into the Sky Commander (or other device) at this point. Deep-Sky Planner running on the laptop wants to talk to a COM port, but we haven't defined one yet. Com2Tcp software provides this capability.

  1. Download Com2Tcp and save to your hard drive or other storage device.
  2. Install Com2Tcp. Be certain that you are using version 1.4.6 or later. If you use a prior version, you may see error connecting to host
    Run-time error '91': Object variable or With block variable not set
    when you try to connect (step 5 below). This is a symptom of needing to update Com2Tcp to the latest version.
  3. Start Com2Tcp.
  4. Set Remote IP =, and TCP Port to 4030. These are default values for the SkyFi unit.
  5. Set COM Port to a value that isn't already used on the laptop. If you don't know what is available, start the Device Manager and look at Ports (COM & LPT). You may have to click View | Show hidden devices in Device Manager to see Ports. If you still see none, there are no COM ports currently in use on the laptop and you can select any COM port. I suggest choosing COM3 or greater.
  6. Click Connect. When you close Com2Tcp, the configuration settings (IP address, TCP Port, COM port) are retained for future use.

And In The End...

I leave the shortcut to Com2Tcp on the laptop's desktop so that it is beside the icon for the batch file I use to start the SkyFi connection. Thus, when I get ready to observe, I double click the batch file and then the Com2Tcp shortcut. Lastly, I start Deep-Sky Planner and verify that the COM port defined for Sky Commander matches that selected in step 5 under issue 3 above. Now I am ready to work with the Sky Commander wirelessly from Deep-Sky Planner. Voilà.

Knightware thanks Ray St.Denis of AstroGeeks for his kind assistance troubleshooting a problem with Com2Tcp and Windows 10.

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