Wednesday, March 28, 2012

(video) A last view of ESA's ATV-3, with ISS, FIA Radar 1 and an old Russian Soyuz upper stage

click image to enlarge

This morning near 3:39 UTC (5:39 am local time), Europeans could witness the last visible pass of ESA's Space Freighter ATV-3 'Edoardo Amaldi' on its way to the International Space Station (ISS), less than a day away from docking to the ISS in the night of March 28/29.

I watched, photographed and filmed the pass from Leiden: footage shot with the WATEC 902H + 1.4/12mm lens, and a photograph made with the Canon EOS 450D + EF 2.0/35mm lens, can be seen above.

I got a very fine view with more than just the ISS and ATV visible. Just before the ISS became visible around 3:56 UTC a bit of  bright (mag +1) space-debris, an old Russian Soyuz Zenit upper stage crossed the sky (see first seconds of the video above, left in the FOV): 99-039B, the upper stage from the OKEAN-O launch in 1999 [edit 30/03/2012: it is a Zenit rather than a Soyuz r/b - with thanks to Ralf Vandeberg]. Next, the ISS emerged out of earth shadow eclipse near Arcturus, quickly attaining a brightness of -3 to -4. As it moved through Bootes, Corona Borealis, Hercules and into Lyra, the American military satellite FIA Radar 1 (10-046A) came into view, going the opposite direction of the ISS (nicely demonstrating that it is in a rare retrograde orbit, i.e. moves from east to west rather than west to east). As FIA Radar 1 started to descend to the west through Corona Borealis, ESA's ATV-3 came into view, again as a nice and bright naked eye object attaining about mag. 0 to +1. It followed the ISS by almost exactly 3 minutes, just a little bit too much separation alas to image the ATV and it's destination the ISS together. The photograph above (and the video) shows it together with the FIA Radar 1: ATV-3 is moving up, the FIA Radar 1 down! (note: for easthetic reasons, I photoshopped an annoying trail from the aircraft that can be seen in the video, out of the photograph).

The video ends with ATV-3 descending in the east and disappearing behind the roof of our appartement building.

I wish to thank Laurent Arzel (ESA) for providing me with predicted orbital elements with manoeuvres of ATV-3 taken into account. Some web-based satellite prediction services (and surprisingly, the German DLR in a tweet) used "old" elements from the 27th, that lead to erroneous pass times (off by over 5 minutes: these suggested the ATV was leading the ISS by 2.5 minutes, while in reality it was following by 2.5 to 3 minutes!). Thanks to Laurent's elements, I could plan for the correct situation and point some fellow amateur observers to the correct pass times.

With docking less than half a day away as I write this, our Dutch astronaut André Kuipers onboard ISS can look forward to fresh supplies of Dutch cheese soon!

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