Monday, 5 June 2017

Cygnus OA-7 and Dragon CRS-11 chasing the ISS in a twilight sky

ISS and Cygnus OA-7. Click to enlarge

June 3, the launch date of SpaceX's Dragon CRS-11 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), was clouded out in Leiden, much to my frustration.

But yesterday evening was (sort of) clear, albeit with cirrus in the sky and a moon that was quite a nuisance. It allowed me to observe the ISS, the Dragon CRS-11, and Orbital ATK's Cygnus OA-7, which had de-coupled from the ISS a few hours earlier, making a low elevation pass (less than 35 degrees elevation) in the southern sky.

The image above shows the ISS (the bright object near the tree) and, as a faint trail, the Cygnus OA-7 (upper right corner, in the cirrus), descending towards the SE horizon.

Below is a better picture of Cygnus OA-7, shot 25 seconds later (ISS is already behind the tree here):

Cygnus OA-7. Click image to enlarge

Cygnus OA-7 passed ~25 seconds after the ISS. One minute later, ~1m 25s behind the ISS and on a slightly lower elevation track came another object: Dragon CRS-11:

Dragon CRS-11. Click image to enlarge

I did not expect the Dragon to be behind the ISS: I expected it somewhat in front of it. So initially I was miffed that I missed it (see below, this evening did not go quite well): to be surprised by it appearing behind the ISS!

This evening did initially not go well, but in a weird way eventually turned out fine.

A number of objects would pass in a short timespan of a few minutes: USA 276, the Dragon solar panel covers, Dragon, ISS, and somewhere nearby the ISS also Cygnus OA-7.

There were no post-ISS-release elements for the Cygnus yet, so its position would be a guess, although I reckoned it probably still was close to the ISS. Cygnus are usually faint (this time too) and only naked eye objects under favourable circumstances (usually, as this time, close to shadow ingress).

For Dragon, only a day old elements were available. These placed Dragon a few minutes in front of the ISS. As it no doubt would have manoeuvered during that day, I expected it to be closer to the ISS in reality, but that it was behind the ISS, that was a bit unanticipated.

The passes occurred in twilight (sun about 10 deg below the horizon). As obtaining new astrometric data on USA 276 (see story here for as to why) was important, I had set up the WATEC video camera to capture it, from the loft window (the only spot in my house where I can view that low south). That took  me longer than expected, as I initially had some trouble finding the target area in the video view (it was still deep twilight).

When I finally had found the target starfield through which USA 276 should pass, I discovered to my dismay that the pass was already imminent within minutes. As I could not visually observe through the same loft window, nor photograph, I had to be outside for that, at the city moat near my house which offers a view low south. So I grabbed my photo gear and ran outside. Arrived at the observing spot, I found that I already missed the opportunity to visually see and photograph USA 276 (luckily, the video camera in the loft window did film it). I also feared I had missed Dragon CRS-11, as I already could see the ISS approaching in the southwest. So I said a few strong words...

As ISS had passed the moon (which was a bloody nuisance, smack in the middle of the trajectory line) and was descending into the trees low in the south-southeast, I spotted a second, not too bright object chasing it (see first two images above). As I was photographing it and it descended into the trees, I re-aimed my camera hoping to catch it in a gap on the other (left) side of the tree.

Then I saw yet another object descend into the right side of the tree, and realised this was either Dragon or Cygnus. I initially thought, to my dismay, that it would be just outside my camera FOV. Luckily, back home later it turned out it still was in the FOV (I used a 35 mm lens).

The first, faint object on the same trajectory as the ISS some 25 seconds behind it I for this moment identify as Cygnus OA-7. The second, brighter one, on a trajectory just south of that of the ISS some 1m 25s behind it, I for the moment identify as the Dragon CRS-11.

1 comment:

Филипп Романов, астроном-любитель said...

ISS and Dragon CRS-11 over Moscow: June 4, 2017. My video