Entries tagged as satellite

Seeing a spacecraft docking with ISS from Earth

Crew Dragon approaches Int'l Space Station on April 5, 2021

With clear skies yesterday evening, it was a perfect time to watch the International Space Station make a pass near zenith. Like last month, I set my P1000 camera to video mode while I tracked manually. When I reviewed the recording, I was happy to see that the frames were mostly in focus. The quality was actually one of the best I got with the camera, with most of the modules easily distinguishable. But then I noticed a faint dot next to the station in much of the frames, so I looked up the news.

It turned out that the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft was moving from one docking port to another during those moments. The move only took 39 minutes from undocking (19:31:02) to soft capture (20:10:12), so it was out of sheer coincidence and luck that I was recording while spacecraft was near, but not docked to the space station. The fact that the Crew Dragon's was just big enough to show up in the frames helped, too. The 109-meter ISS was 83 pixels wide at the closest approach, so the Dragon being 4 meters in diameter appeared as a 3-pixel dot. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I photographed this occasion. It was something I had on my bucket list.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - ISO 200 - 1/1000s - f/8
Filters: None
Time: 2021-04-05 20:05:26-20:06:12 KST
Location: Naju, Korea
432 video frames processed with PIPP 2.5.9, RegiStax, and Pixelmator Pro 2.0
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ISS brushing past afternoon Moon

Illuminated ISS passes in front of the first quarter Moon on March 22, 2021 (50% - click for full size)

While the Sun is up in the sky, the Moon is still visible at the right phases due to its brightness. Although the Int'l Space Station can also become bright, it's only visible shortly before to about an hour after sunset. So when I found out that it was to pass in front of the Moon while the sky was fairly bright (36 minutes before sunset), I wasn't sure of the results. Would it look brighter or darker than the Moon? Would it even be visible when it's not in front of the Moon?

These questions were cleared up when I got the Moon at that moment on video. Because of the uncertainties and the quickness of the pass, I used 4k 30fps recording instead of the usual 7-frame burst mode on the P1000 camera. The prediction calculation was slightly off and the ISS was not centered, but I still managed to get more than 10 useful frames. The fuzziness is due to video compression, but it's far better than nothing. Interestingly enough, the radiators on the space station were quite a bit brighter than the surface of the Moon in general.

Shots of ISS caught on the video and the resulting stacked image

When we take a closer look, the prominent features of the ISS are easily discernible. The solar panels are stretching from top to bottom, while the Russian modules Zvezda (right) and Zarya (center) are more illuminated than the multi-national modules on the left. Considering this success, it looks like I should try the video recording again for the next ISS pass.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - ISO 400 - 1/1000s - f/8
Filters: None
Time: 2021-03-22 18:10:36 KST
Location: Buan, Korea
12 video frames processed with Pixelmator Pro 2.0
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Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction of 2020

Jupiter, Saturn, their major satellites, and star HIP 99314 are seen together on December 21, 2020 (click for full size)

Jupiter and Saturn appeared closest to each other in nearly 400 years on the Winter Solstice of 2020. For this Great Conjunction, the two planets were only about 6 arc seconds apart, which meant that I was easily able to take a photo of both in a single frame as you can see here. Some had expected that they might appear as a single dot, but it turned out that Saturn was discernible as a fainter "bump" on the top right side of Jupiter to the naked eyes.

To show the planets and the satellites together, I used varied exposures and then combined the results into a single photo. Titan was the dimmest that I could photograph, and it appears very faintly to the right of Saturn. Interestingly, a star named HIP 99314 was also caught in action between Io and Europa, which means that this conjunction was actually a triple affair.

Nikon P1000 taking photos of the conjunction

By the way, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to see the phenomenon in person because it was pretty cloudy throughout the day. Luckily, most of them went away as the Sun set and I was able to take the photos for about an hour until the low-hanging clouds started to block the view. The next closest conjunction happens 60 years later and I'm not sure if I'd be around to see that, so I was glad that the weather decided to cooperate in the last minute.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - f/8
- Jupiter: 24 photos, ISO 200, 1/30s
- Saturn: 13 photos, ISO 400, 1/30s
- Satellites: 17 photos, ISO 800, 1/5s
Filters: None
Time: 2020-12-21 18:20-18:40 KST
Location: Naju, Korea
Photos processed with PIPP 2.5.9, RegiStax and Pixelmator Pro 2.0

Illuminated ISS crossing waning Moon

Brightly lit ISS passes in front of the Moon on November 11, 2020 (click for full resolution)

The International Space Station is usually in the Earth's shadow when it makes a pass in front of the Moon. But when the conditions are just right, you can see both illuminated by the Sun just like the photo I took above. When seen with the naked eyes, it looked as if a bright meteor was darting across the sky towards the Moon and eventually pass right through it. To witness this, I drove about 40km northeast to the edge of Damyang in the early morning.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - ISO 400 - 1/500s - f/8
Filters: None
Time: 2020-11-11 05:36:43 KST
Location: Damyang, Korea
6 photos processed with RegiStax and Pixelmator Pro 1.8
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Spotting the SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship

International Space Station as seen in 2015 and 2020

SpaceX Crew Dragon launched on May 30, 2020, under the mission name DM-2, became the first privately operated spacecraft to reach the Int'l Space Station with a human crew. It is now docked to the Harmony module at the forward end until around August, which makes it possible to be seen when the station is overhead. I made some attempts to photograph it, and these are the first clear results coming from the space station's transit in front of the Sun.

ISS passing by (click to enlarge)

With a distance of 448.9 km, the station would have an angular diameter of 61.6", which made it easier to notice the docked spacecraft in question. You can clearly see the difference when you compare the new photos to the one I took 5 years ago, when another SpaceX spacecraft, the Cargo Dragon, was berthed to the bottom of the Harmony module (and thus not distinguishable from the overhead view) for the CRS-6 mission.

Nikon P1000 takes photos of the Sun behind Bolt EV

To take these photos, I drove to Hamyang on my Bolt EV. It was about 100 km away from home, but the weather was excellent and I didn't want to waste a good opportunity. I was glad that everything went right. The photo from 5 years ago is an enlarged composite of multiple frames took by an iPhone through a telescope. But it seems that a single photo taken by Nikon P1000 on its own surpasses that with proper focusing, even though the setup is much simpler and lighter. I guess I'll be bringing around the camera to more places.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - ISO 200 - 1/2500s - f/8
Filters: None
Time: 2019-06-22 13:53:20 KST
Location: Hamyang, Korea

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