December 13, 2017

20.01.11: The Return of NanoSail-D2.

NanoSail-D2 and FASTSAT over North America tonight, January 2th at about 18:16 EST. (Created by author in Orbitron).

Never say die… a satellite that was written off as dead in space may be making a comeback. Yesterday, at 11:30AM EST, Marshall Space Flight engineers received confirmation that NanoSail-D2 did in fact eject from FASTSAT. NanoSail-D2 was one of the miniaturized payloads launched aboard FASTSAT from the Kodiak Island launch complex on November 20th, 2010, and was to deploy December 6th. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: ISS All Nite!

(Editor’s Note: Due to timeliness concerns for events mentioned, we nudged next week’s astro-event up to today!)

After a long drought, the International Space Station (ISS) returns to the nighttime skies this week. And what a return it is; starting tonight on June 23rd, the ISS enters a phase in which it is illuminated by the Sun throughout the span of its orbit. This unique event continues for four days, and sighting opportunities abound. This is only possible within a few weeks surrounding the solstice season, and does not happen again this year. Generally, the farther north or south in latitude you are, the greater the sighting opportunities; areas such as northern Maine, for example, will see the ISS on every 90 minute pass throughout the night! This also produces a dilemma for residents of the ISS, as overheating is a major concern. To offset or minimize this effect, portions of the ISS can be angled to alternately “shade” sections and automated cooling and radiating devices are installed throughout. Now is a good time to spy this celestial outpost of humanity, as its brightness rivals Venus. Spaceweather.com, Orbitron and the NASA ISS website all provide sighting guides; you can even follow @twisst on twitter for sighting ops or our humble feed @Astroguyz if you live in the US Southeast. Our favorite pick for ISS tracking is Heavens-Above, a tried and time honored favorite… let us know of your ISS sighting success stories!

The Astroword for this week is Inclination. This is one of the essential perimeters that defines an orbit of a celestial body; usually an established and agreed upon 0° degree point is set based on the primary bodies’ rotation (as is the case for objects orbiting the Earth) or orbital plane (for objects orbiting the Sun). That is, the Earth’s orbit as traced out by the ecliptic establishes zero point inclination throughout our solar system. The fact that the illumination angle of the ISS changes is a direct result of its 51.6° degree inclined orbit with respect to the Earth’s rotational equator. This relatively high inclination was chosen to be easily achievable between U.S. and Russian launch sites. In order for the shuttle or any spacecraft to reach the ISS, it must match the same magical orbital inclination of 51.6° degrees.

Imaging Satellites: A Low-Tech Method.

We here at Astroguyz have been working for some time on an interesting technique for capturing photographs of satellites, and by popular demand, we wanted to give a brief rundown at how we were ultimately successful. Go out star-gazing on any clear night, and it’s only a matter of minutes before you’ll notice a star or two that slide silently by. [Read more...]

Keep Watching the Skies! by W. Patrick McCray

Quick note: The Phoenix has landed! Full details in next weeks’ post!

The 1950s were heady times for both the public and amateur and scientists alike.

Rarely have the contributions of rank amateurs been acknowledged publicly. In Keep Watching the Skies! The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age, W. Patrick McCray reveals a forgotten saga. It’s hard to imagine that only a scant fifty years ago, “satellite spotting” (a future movie?) was not as common or mundane as it could be considered today. [Read more...]