Thursday, 7 February 2008

Observing ISS and two of its Progress cargo spacecraft

Yesterday evening was very clear, and provided the rather unique opportunity to see the International Space Station (ISS) pass in twilight, followed several minutes later by two of its cargo Spacecraft: Progress-M62 (07-064A) decoupled from ISS on Wednesday and now moving away from it carrying garbage, and Progress-M63 (08-004A) launched from Baikonur in Kazachstan on Wednesday and on its way to the ISS with fresh cargo. Seeing two Progress spacecraft in free flight on the same evening is unique.

ISS was the first to pass, still in deep twilight, at 18:15 local time, being around mag. -3. Five minutes later Progress-M62 followed on a trajectory a few degrees higher, grazing the Hyades cluster, and being about mag. +1. And twelve minutes after that, the newly launched Progress-M63 followed in a very similar trajectory. By that time, although the sky was still bright due to twilight, it was dark enough to try to photograph it. The resulting photograph has a very bright background drowning the trail, but after some image manipulation for brightness and contrast it is visible:

(click image to enlarge)

I logged a point for Progress-M63 through the telescope, and the endpoint of the trail on the image above provided a second point.

Later in the evening I observed Lacrosse 2 (91-017A), which by now was 34.6 seconds early, the USA 32 ELINT sat (88-078A), Lacrosse 5 (05-016A) and the NOSS 3-2 duo (03-054A & C), the latter duo on two consecutive passes.

Like previous days it was again clouded in the morning, so no chance to observe USA 193.

Tomorrow evening is going to prove very interesting, I hope. The weather prospects are good, and if the launch isn't postponed this evening, I will have a very good 80 degree post-twilight pass of Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-122. In addition, the ISS and the two Progresses can be observed again. Plus, the Soyuz rocket booster (08-004B) from the Progress-M63 launch could prove very interesting, as it will make two passes (one visible and one in shadow) while close to decay.

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