Saturday, 7 March 2020

Dragon CRS-20, 23 minutes after launch, with thruster firings

click image to enlarge

SpaceX launched the Dragon CRS-20 cargoship to the ISS this morning at 4:50:31 UT. Some 23 minutes after launch from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida, it was visible from the Netherlands around 6:13 local time (5:13 UT) in morning twilight. There were some fields of clouds in the sky, but I nevertheless got a clear view of the four objects associated to the launch, all still closely together.

The image above is a 2-second exposure at 800 ISO which I took during the pass, using a Canon EOS 80D DSLR and a SamYang 1.4/85 mm lens. The image shows the trails of  four objects, two of which are tumbling. In the annotated image below, I identify what is what:

click image to enlarge

The Dragon cargoship, the Falcon 9 upper stage and the two solar panel covers were easy naked eye objects. The Dragon and Falcon 9 upper stage were very bright and steady, while the two solar panel covers slowly flashed alongside them. These solar panel covers varied in brightness between invisible (with the naked eye) and magnitude +1.5. The Falcon 9 upper stage and Dragon were about +1.5 to +2: with the naked eye, being very close together they seemed one object, while on the photographs they are clearly two.

The image below, taken a few seconds after the previous image, shows one of the tumbling, slowly flaring solar panel covers at its brightest, rivalling the Dragon and Falcon 9 upper stage in brightness:

click to enlarge

The slow regular flashing behaviour was nice to see: the two tumbling solar panel covers were alternating, when one of the two was bright, the other was faint (clearly visible in the image above and the video below). Due to the alternatingly flashing panel covers above and below the Dragon, it looked a bit like an aircaft.

I also captured a small part of the pass on video, using the WATEC 902H with a 1.8/50 mm lens on a fixed tripod in autonomous mode (I was outside myself witha sceond tripod and the photo camera). In this video segment (below), a thruster firing is visible as a cloudy upwards moving "puff"starting at 5:13:00 UT:

Dragon CRS-20 will berth to the ISS on Monday 9 March near 11:00 UT.

This was the last flight of a Dragon 1, and the concluding flight of a contract awarded in 2008. All future Dragon supply flights will be done by an updated model, the Dragon 2 as well as the crew-rated Crew Dragon variant of the latter.

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