Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Tracking ESA's ATV-4 "Albert Einstein" the coming nights

If all goes well, ESA's cargoship ATV-4 "Albert Einstein" will be launched from Kourou on top of an Ariane rocket tonight at 23:52 CEST (21:52 UTC). It will dock to the International Space Station ISS on 15 June. A live webcast of the launch will be featured here.

During the 10 days it takes to get to the ISS, it will make several visible passes over Europe, starting the coming night (June 5/6). On the night of June 14/15, it will be possible to see ATV-4 and the ISS pass around the same time, closing in on each other just hours before docking.

For those of you who want to try to photograph an ATV pass themselves, I have written a tutorial, that is featured on ESA's ATV weblog.

Visible passes for NW Europe the coming night (June 5/6) occur at approximately:

* 01:47 CEST (23:47 UTC)
This is a pass that is very favourable for the UK, Netherlands and mid-Germany. In the Netherlands we will see the ATV pass right through the zenit! Here is a trajectory card (valid for Leiden, the Netherlands: elsewhere in Europe the trajectory will be different! For elsewhere in the Netherlands, the trajectory might slightly shift) and a map of the relevant groundtrack:

* 03:20 CEST (01:20 UTC)
A pass in twilight over a.o. the southern UK and France (but also visible from the Netherlands and Germany):

Please note that the spacecraft is actively manoeuvering, and this means that the listed pass times are approximate: there might be differences up to a few minutes with the real pass times.

If you want to get an accurate sky trajectory map for your own location, then Heavens-Above should have predictions available from the moment of launch. A live ground tracking application is available here (it will tell you over which part of the globe the ATV is, but not where in your sky however).

If your are able to run your own predictions (e.g. with Heavensat), then ESA has kindly made TLE's available here.

The relevant TLE for tonight (5/6 June) is:

1 00000U 13156A   13156.95908050  .00000000  00000-0  11891-3 0  0008
2 00000 051.6512 167.2588 0016658 269.7524 354.7951 16.02929810 00002

Depending on the illumination conditions, the ATV can reach mag. +1 and hence be easily visible by the naked eye during a favourable pass.

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