Monday 31 March 2008

ATV-1 "Jules Verne" and ISS chasing each other in the sky

This evening was clear, albeit with occasional patches of low clouds passing. I observed the KeyHole USA 186 (05-042A) and the NOSS duo's 3-3 (05-004A & C) and 3-4 (07-027A & C).

The highlight of the night were however the European cargo ship ATV-1 "Jules Verne" and the International Space Station ISS chasing each other in the sky. They made a pass at 22:12 local time (20:12 UTC) going into eclipse close to the zenith. The ATV lead the ISS by about 15 seconds in time. It was about mag. +1, while the ISS was about -3 to -4.

I started the camera a bit too early and as a result the early part of the ISS trail was outside the image. Yet the image is still nice:

(click image to enlarge)

The reddish blot is a wisp of cloud, and stars visible are in Gemini, with Castor and Pollux.

The camera I used by the way is a new one, which I purchased last Sunday. It hence still needs to be calibrated. Like my previous camera it is a compact camera from the Canon Digital Ixus family again, but a newer improved model: the Canon Digital Ixus 75. It is a 7.1 megapixel camera (my older camera was 4.0 megapixel).

Earlier in the evening I photographed a -2 flare of Iridium 12 with it:

(click image to enlarge)

Friday 28 March 2008

Two satellite fuel tanks survive re-entry

Two recent finds of satellite fuel tanks - both of carbon-wrapped titanium fuel tanks from the Atlas Centaur upper stages of two US military satellite launches probably - are in the news at the same time. One came down a week ago in Brasil, the other was found in the autumn of 2007 in Australia.

The Brasilian tank (source):

The Australian tank (source):

The Brasilian fuel tank is very likely part of the upper Centaur stage of the rocket that launched a US military communications satellite (Global SATCOM, 2007-046B) in October 2007. The Australian fuel tank could be a part of the upper Centaur stage of the rocket that launched another military satellite, USA 138 (1998-016A) in 1998.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Bright Keyhole Satellites

A late report on my observations of Wednesday evening 12 March.

After a strong gale in daytime the sky cleared in the evening, although fields of clouds still came and went. A near first quarter moon in the sky was no real nuisance.

Several objects were observed: NOSS-es 2-3 and 3-4 and the NOSS 3-4 rocket, plus two KeyHoles: USA 129 and USA 186.

USA 129 (96-072a) was bright again just after it emerged from eclipse. I observed it telescopically and obtained a photograph, yielding 4 positions in total. The visually obtained data dn the photographically obtained data agree well. The image is below and shows it near Castor and Pollux:

(click image to enlarge)

The other Keyhole observed, USA 186, flared short and bright while the camera was open:

(click image to enlarge)

96-072A was 0.5s early, 05-042A 0.5s late, 07-027A on-time, 07-027C perhaps some 0.3s early (I might have been a tad "fast"with the stopwatch on this one though), and the rocket 07-027B was 1.6s late. The 96-029 C & D components were both 0.4s early, the E component 0.2s early.

Yesterday evening (Saturday 15 March) the sky was too hazy to do serious satellite observations. I did shoot some nice moon images though. Below is an image of the craterland on the southern hemisphere (click it to see it at full screen, full resolution), plus a mosaic image constructed from 3 partial moon images. They were taken through my Meade ETX-70 with my Canon Digital Ixus 400 compact camera.

(click images to enlarge)

Monday 10 March 2008

ATV-1 "Jules Verne" nice and bright

Against my expectations, it was clear this morning, allowing me the chance to observe the 04:21 UTC pass of the newly launched ATV-1 Jules Verne (08-008A), the first European cargo ship on its way to the ISS. It was launched last Saturday on Sunday night from Kourou by an Ariane 5 rocket. ATV stands for Automated Transfer Vehicle.

I watched it coming out of earth shadow at about 50 degrees altitude in Ophiuchus around 04:21:10 UTC. It was nice and bright, reaching mag. +0.5.

I shot below photograph, unfortunately suffering from some lens reflections.

(click image to enlarge)

Sunday 9 March 2008

USA 129, and an unknown object

Friday evening was clear, albeit with occasional wisps of cirrus traversing the sky. Back home from my new job in which I started last week, I could do some observing again.

First I tried to observe two predicted zenith passes of USA 193 debris, but didn't spot anything.

Next target was Lacrosse 3 (97-064A). I selected a star field close to beta Umi near RA 15:00, dec +76 45', through which Lacrosse 3 would pass at 19:46:30 UTC (March 7).

Just before the expected appearance of Lacrosse 3 in the FOV, suddenly a very fast object of about mag. +7.5 crossed through the lower part of the (4 degree) FOV. It moved west-east and roughly parallel to the predicted Lacrosse track. It was very fast, maybe even moving as fast as 1.5 degree/second. It caught me completely by surprise, so it took me some time to realize what happened and try to fix an approxiate time. With a plus-minus of say 20 seconds in time, the resulting position (in IOD format) is about:

99999 08 999A 4353 G 20080307194600000 17 75 1511063+756260 36 S

Given the fast speed and general direction of movement, my thought was immediately that this could be a piece of USA 193 debris. It doesn't match any of the published catalogued debris pieces though. And according to Ted, it would be somewhat too far from the expected plane of these fragments. So the object remains unidentified.

Some 30 seconds later Lacrosse 3 sailed into the FOV.

Other objects tracked that evening were all of the NOSS 3-4 objects (07-027A, B and C) including the Centaur rocket, the NOSS 2-3 objects (96-029C, D and E). I also observed two of the KeyHole photo-reconnaissance satellites: USA 129 (96-072A) which initially was bright, and USA 186 (05-042A). They were all early, especially USA 129.

I catched the latter on photograph too, while it crossed close to Castor and Pollux in Gemini, being about mag. +0.5:

(click image to enlarge)

All in all, 16 positions were logged on 10 objects this evening, two of which were camera positions, the rest was visual. The visual position obtained for USA 129 and the two camera positions agree well.

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Interesting visitor

An interesting visitor in the webstats today:

(click image to enlarge)

I wonder what their interest in the Lacrosse sats is....