ISS Tracking

The International Space Station, or ISS, is the largest object every built by humans in space. And because it’s so large, it’s also very bright; easily visible with the unaided eye. The ISS also follows an orbital track that takes over different parts of the Earth. That means if you know the right time, you can go out and watch the station pass right over. But you need to know the right time, and that requires some kind of ISS tracking tool. Let’s take a look at some ISS tracking tools you can use to tell you when you should head outside and look up.

The best place to track ISS is from NASA’s human space flight ISS tracking page. This site will tell you the current location of the International Space Station, and space shuttles currently in flight, and the Hubble Space Telescope. The problem is that this tells you where the space station is right now, and not when it’s going to be passing through your skies… at night.

A better tool for that is the ISS sightings page. You download an applet that lets you put in your place on Earth and it gives you some upcoming dates and times that the station will be passing overhead. There’s also a quick drop down box, where you can select your location from many places in the world.

Another great tool is Heavens Above. It allows you to track the current position of thousands of satellites, including ISS and the space shuttles, when they’re in orbit.

So use one of these tools for ISS tracking, and then head outside and see if you can see the station with your own eyes.

We have written many articles about the International Space Station. Here’s an article about how you can actually see ISS in the daytime; it’s just that bright. And here’s an image of ISS and the shuttle transiting the Sun.

We have recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast that talks about the Space Station’s orbit.

After Loss of Lunar Orbiter, India Looks to Mars Mission

India Moon Mission

After giving up on re-establishing contact with the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman G. Madhavan Nair announced the space agency hopes to launch its first mission to Mars sometime between 2013 and 2015. Nair said the termination of Chandrayaan-1, although sad, is not a setback and India will move ahead with its plans for the Chandrayaan-2 mission to land an unmanned rover on the moon’s surface to prospect for chemicals, and in four to six years launch a robotic mission to Mars.

“We have given a call for proposal to different scientific communities,” Nair told reporters. “Depending on the type of experiments they propose, we will be able to plan the mission. The mission is at conceptual stage and will be taken up after Chandrayaan-2.”

On the decision to quickly pull the plug on Chandrayaan-1, Nair said, “There was no possibility of retrieving it. (But) it was a great success. We could collect a large volume of data, including more than 70,000 images of the moon. In that sense, 95 percent of the objective was completed.”

Contact with Chandrayaan-1 may have been lost because its antenna rotated out of direct contact with Earth, ISRO officials said. Earlier this year, the spacecraft lost both its primary and back-up star sensors, which use the positions of stars to orient the spacecraft.

The loss of Chandrayaan-1 comes less than a week after the spacecraft’s orbit was adjusted to team up with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for a Bi-static radar experiment. During the maneuver, Chandrayaan-1 fired its radar beam into Erlanger Crater on the moon’s north pole. Both spacecraft listened for echoes that might indicate the presence of water ice – a precious resource for future lunar explorers. The results of that experiment have not yet been released.

Chandrayaan-1 craft was designed to orbit the moon for two years, but lasted 315 days. It will take about 1,000 days until it crashes to the lunar surface and is being tracked by the U.S. and Russia, ISRO said.

The Chandrayaan I had 11 payloads, including a terrain-mapping camera designed to create a three-dimensional atlas of the moon. It is also carrying mapping instruments for the European Space Agency, radiation-measuring equipment for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and two devices for NASA, including the radar instrument to assess mineral composition and look for ice deposits. India launched its first rocket in 1963 and first satellite in 1975. The country’s satellite program is one of the largest communication systems in the world.

Sources: New Scientist, Xinhuanet

First Tweets from the ISS

Listen my children and you shall hear
Tweets coming from up above our Earthly sphere.

The newest International Space Station astronaut has started Tweeting from space. Tim Kopra is the first ISS crew member to use the social media tool Twitter to discuss living and working in orbit. Kopra (@Astro_Tim) recently joined the Expedition 20 crew after arriving July 17 aboard space shuttle Endeavour. But the coolest thing is that his first Tweets’ origin was “from Mobile Web.” Yep, from the ISS, that’s really mobile.

But of course, there isn’t really “the web” up on the space station. But Kopra will sent down his Tweets messages to mission control in Houston, and they will post them on Twitter.
NASA says Kopra will provide followers with a unique perspective as an Expedition 20 flight engineer and member of the Army. He is an Army aviator and West Point graduate. He periodically will answer questions submitted on the Army’s Web site. To submit questions and view Kopra’s answers, visit the US Army’s website

This is Kopra’s first spaceflight. He completed his first spacewalk July 18 during the STS-127 mission. Kopra is in orbit with station Commander Gennady Padalka and Roman Romanenko — both Russian cosmonauts — and NASA astronaut Mike Barratt, European Space Agency astronaut Frank DeWinne and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk.

As of this writing, Astro_Tim has close to 5,000 followers.

You can also follow Universe Today and Nancy on Twitter.

Source: NASA

Triple Spaceship Sighting Alert!

A great opportunity tonight (July 28) to see three spaceships cross the sky at once! Endeavour just undocked from the ISS today, so they will be close to each other, plus there’s another spaceship lurking nearby: a Progress re-supply ship ready to dock with the ISS. How can you find out when and where to look for the three spacecraft? There are a couple of different websites that provide real-time tracking data and information about the ISS sighting opportunities. See below for more info.

The image above is a screenshot from NASA TV of the ISS as Endeavour undocked. Notice the shadow of the shuttle on the ISS solar arrays!

NASA has a Quick and Easy Sightings by City site, where you just search for your country and city which provides local times and the location in the sky where the station will be visible.

The European Space Agency also provides their ISS: Where Is It Now site that also allows you to select your country and city to find the station’s location.

The Heaven’s Above website (which also powers ESA’s site) is also an excellent site to find out when the ISS, as well as all sorts of other satellites and other heavenly sights will be visible. At Heaven’s Above, you can plug in your exact latitude and longitude, so if you live in a remote area, you’ll be able to have exact times and locations to look for satellites instead of relying on information for the nearest city.

There’s also this very cool Google Satellite tracker.

Additionally, you can get a notification on Twitter when the space station will be zooming over your skies. Follow Twisst. (Thanks to big ian for the reminder of this new Twitter addition!)

Here’s wishing everyone clear skies and great views!

STS-127: A Mission in Pictures

As space shuttle Endeavour undocks from the International Space Station today (Tuesday), now is a good time to look back at the very successful STS-127 mission. Here’s some great images which tell the story of the mission. Above, astronaut Tim Kopra is pictured in the forward port side area of Endeavour’s cargo bay during the first of five planned spacewalks performed by the STS-127 crew. Kopra is now part of the ISS crew, and is staying onboard the space station to serve as flight engineer.

Moon rock on board the ISS. Credit: NASA
Moon rock on board the ISS. Credit: NASA

Of course, during this mission we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Fittingly, there was a Moon rock on board the ISS. The 3.6 billion year-old lunar sample was flown to the station aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-119 in April 2009. NASA says the rock, lunar sample 10072 serves as a symbol of the nation’s resolve to continue the exploration of space. It will be returned on shuttle mission STS-128 to be publicly displayed.
The new Kibo platform, or "front porch." Credit: NASA
Here’s a view of the newly installed “front porch” of the Kibo lab, which is actually the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEF). This platform will hold experiments designed to work outside the protective confines of the station, exposing them to the space environment. The JEF was installed by the astronauts during this mission.
Dave Wolf during an EVA. Credit: NASA
Dave Wolf during an EVA. Credit: NASA

During the second STS-127 spacewalk, astronaut Dave Wolf worked outside bringing the Linear Drive Unit (LDU) and two other parts to the station’s External Stowage Platform 3 for long-term storage. Wolf is near the end of Canadarm2, which is anchored on the ISS.
Arms in space. Credit: NASA
Arms in space. Credit: NASA

Speaking of the robotic arms, here’s a view of both the space station and space shuttle robotic arms as seen from inside the Kibo laboratory. A portion of the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility is also visible. The blackness of space and Earth’s horizon provide the backdrop for the scene.
Tom Marshburn during an EVA. Credit: NASA
Tom Marshburn during an EVA. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Tom Marshburn makes his second spacewalk on July 24, along with Christopher Cassidy, out of frame. Eleven other astronauts and cosmonauts remained inside the International Space Station and the shuttle while the two astronauts worked outside.
Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA
Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA

In total, there were 13 astronauts on board the ISS, a record for the amount of astronauts in one vehicle. Pictured, clockwise from bottom right, are astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Mike Barratt, with Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, an unidentified crew member, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata (floating above), Canadian Space Agency astronauts Robert Thirsk and Julie Payette, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, and astronaut Christopher Cassidy. Either out of frame or not clearly seen are astronauts Mark Polansky, Doug Hurley, Dave Wolf, Tim Kopra and Tom Marshburn, plus Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
ISS as seen from departing space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA TV
ISS as seen from departing space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA TV

This screen shot shows the ISS as seen as Endeavour departed from the station on July 28. The views of both the ISS and shuttle were stunning. We’ll post the high-resolution versions when they become available. Notice the shadow of the space shuttle on the space station solar arrays! Amazing!
Endeavour's launch. Credit: NASA
Endeavour's launch. Credit: NASA

And now we’re back to the beginning of the mission. Liftoff for the STS-was at 6:03 p.m. (EDT) on July 15, 2009 from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The storm clouds stayed far enough away so that Endeavour and her STS-127 crew finally on its sixth attempt. Watch a replay of the launch here.

Long Duration Space Underwear

As Japan’s first astronaut to spend long duration missions on board the International Space Station, Koichi Wakata has had the opportunity to do all sorts of interesting experiments the past few months. For example, he conducted several different cellular growth and crystal growth experiments, and has even flown a magic carpet in space. One other experiment has been – shall we say – kept under wraps. Wakata has been wearing the same underwear on board the ISS for two months.

“(For) two months I was wearing these underwear and there was no smell and nobody complained,” Wakata, speaking in Japanese, said through an interpreter during a press conference this weekend from the ISS. “I think that new J-ware underwear is very good for myself and my colleagues.”

Wakata has been wearing special underwear and other clothing called “J-ware” designed for the Japanese space agency. According to an article in Discovery News, the clothes are treated with antibacterial and deodorizing materials. In addition to odor control, the clothes are designed to absorb water, insulate the body and dry quickly. They also are flame-resistant and anti-static — as well as comfortable and attractive.

Typically, clothes can only be worn for a few days in space, and especially the clothing worn by astronauts as they exercise. Since there’s no laundromat in space, the clothing is discarded as garbage.

Astronaut Takao Doi, who flew with a shuttle crew last year to deliver Japan’s Kibo laboratory to the station, exercised as much as his crewmates, but his clothes stayed dry.

Wakata’s clothes include long- and short-sleeved shirts, pants, shorts and underwear. Special socks have a separate pouch for the big toes so the astronauts can use their feet like an extra pair of hands, helpful for anchoring themselves on the floor while doing work on the station.

Originally, Wakata was scheduled to wear the underwear for just a couple of weeks. But obviously, he decided to go the long duration route.

Proposed Japanese space toilet.  Credit: JAXA
Proposed Japanese space toilet. Credit: JAXA

At least he wasn’t testing this other option proposed by JAXA. Read more about these special underwear here.

Wakata heads home with the crew of the STS-127 mission, undocking from the ISS today. The first landing opportunity is Friday, July 31.

Sources: Discovery News, Free Space

ISS Now Visible in Daytime!

Oh wow! I love satellite watching, and especially the International Space Station, but now I don’t have to wait for nightfall anymore. We reported that the ISS had become the second brightest object in the night sky back in March 2009 with the addition of the final set of solar arrays. And now its been confirmed that the space station, under the right conditions, can be visible during the day, too. “On June 13th, I was watching a red-headed woodpecker’s nest when the ISS passed overhead,” said Brooke O’Klatner of Charlotte, North Carolina, who took this image, which was posted on

And the ISS will get even brighter when the STS-127 mission arrives, hopefully in July (liftoff has been re-scheduled for July 11 after being postponed today because of a hydrogen leak.) The mission will add an addition on to the Kibo lab, and with Endeavour attached to the station, it will be quite bright. Can’t wait! In the meantime, I’m going to test out my best eagle eyes and try to see the ISS during the day. If anyone is able to see it during a daytime pass, let us know! (Pictures encouraged!)

Medical Problem Delays Spacewalk

A medical issue with a member of the space shuttle crew has forced a change in personnel for the first scheduled spacewalk of the STS-122 shuttle mission to the International Space Station. The switch has also mandated that the spacewalk be delayed one day to Monday. NASA officials would not say which astronaut was experiencing any medical problems, but did confirm that Stan Love has replaced Hans Schlegel for the initial spacewalk.

“There was a medical issue with the crew,” said John Shannon, deputy shuttle program manager. “The flight surgeons do private medical conferences with the crew throughout the mission. The crew called down and asked for one during the rendezvous, which was a little bit of a surprise to us. They talked to the crew members, they understood what the issue was. I will just say it is not going to impact any of the objectives of this mission.”

In video shown on NASA TV, Schlegel showed no noticeable illness as the shuttle crew come on board the ISS after shuttle docking. Reports on news wires suggested that Schlegel lost his voice, but that claim was not corroborated by Shannon.

Communication during the spacewalk would be critical. Schlegel appeared to talk with the ISS crew as he entered the station, and floated easily through the Harmony node. About half of all people who fly in space experience Space Adaptation Syndrome, which include symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and headaches. But citing medical privacy policies, Shannon refused to answer any questions about the nature of the medical issue, or whether Schlegel would be available for the second spacewalk of the mission, now slated for Wednesday.

“You guys can fish all day, but I won’t bite,” Shannon said.

The spacewalk will help install the new Columbus science module, brought up in Atlantis’ payload bay. Installation of the module is the primary goal of this mission.

The shuttle docked at 12:17 pm EST on Saturday. As the shuttle approached the station, the ISS crew took photos of the shuttle to check for any damage to Atlantis. They were asked to take special note of a small tear in the insulation blanket of the Orbital Maneuvering System rocket pod along the tail of the shuttle. Shannon said the tear is probably not critical, but that it’s being looked at.

“Nobody is very excited about this one,” he said. “I don’t expect this to be an issue but the team will continue to work it.”

The insulation blankets on the OMS pods experience temperatures around 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit during peak heating of re-entry. A similar tear on an earlier shuttle flight was repaired by a spacewalking astronaut using surgical staples. Three spacewalks are planned during Atlantis’ current mission and a staple gun is on board if needed.

On a final note, for any Prairie Home Companion fans out there, the shuttle crew wake-up call on Saturday morning was the Powdermilk Biscuit song.

Original News Source: NASA TV

A New Supply Ship for the ISS


The International Space Station (ISS) depends on regular deliveries of food, air and water, as well as equipment and spare parts to keep the station and its occupants happy and in peak operating condition. Of course, the space shuttle brings supplies on its visits for construction and crew exchange missions, and the Russian Progress spacecraft faithfully brings supplies and equipment to the station approximately every six months. But beginning in February 2008 the ISS will have a new supply ship: Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). The first of seven planned ships, known as the “Jules Verne,” is currently undergoing fueling to ready the craft for its journey to the space station. Launch is tentatively scheduled for February 22.

The ATV pressurized cargo carrier is based on the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), (aka Leonardo, Donatello and Raffaello) which has already been carried to the station via the space shuttle as a “space barge,” transporting equipment to and from the station. The ATV, which is equipped with its own propulsion and navigation systems combines full automatic capabilities of an unmanned vehicle with human spacecraft safety requirements. Its mission in space will resemble the combination of a tugboat and a river barge.

Every 12 months or so, the ATV will haul 7.5 tons of cargo to the Station 400 km above the Earth. The ATV will launch on board a Arianne 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. An automatic navigation system will guide the ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards ISS, to automatically dock with the station’s Russian service module. The ATV will remain docked to the station as a pressurized “waste basket” for up to six months until its final mission: a fiery one-way trip into the Earth’s atmosphere to dispose of up to 6.5 tons of station waste.

The ATV is a cylinder 10.3 meters long and 4.5 meters in diameter. The exterior is covered with an insulating foil layer on top of anti-meteorite Whipple Shields. The X-shaped extended solar arrays look like a metallic blue wings. Inside, the ATV consists of two modules, the propulsion spacecraft and the integrated cargo carrier which docks with the ISS.

The ATV’s will become especially important during the time period between after the shuttles are retired and before the next generation of US space craft, can bring supplies and crew to the station. The ESA also sees the ATVs as a way for Europe to pay its share in ISS running costs. Depending on the operational lifetime of the Space Station, ESA will build at least 7 ATVs.

Original News Source: ESA Press Release

ISS Astronaut Dan Tani’s Mother Killed


Our condolences to space station astronaut Dan Tani, whose mother was killed on Wednesday in a car/train accident. Tani has been on board the ISS since October, and in all likelihood would have returned back to earth on Wednesday if space shuttle Atlantis had been able to launch as originally scheduled on Dec. 6. However, the shuttle has been grounded because of malfunctioning engine cutoff sensors in the external fuel tank. As it stands now, the earliest Tani could return home would be late January.

The Chicago Tribune reported that 90-year old Rose Tani was stopped at a railroad track behind a school bus carrying students from her son’s alma mater in Lombard, Illinois. The gates at the track were lowered, but Mrs. Tani honked her car’s horn and then drove around the bus and past the crossing gates when a freight train struck her car.

NASA officials called Tani over a secured connection to tell him the news, and then offered any help he might need. “He would get whatever personal, psychological and spiritual counseling he would need,” NASA spokesman Jim Rostohar told the Tribune. “He can talk it out through a private phone line.”

While the ISS is equipped with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to be used in an emergency as a rescue vehicle for the crew, the death of a family member does not fall under the conditions that the escape vehicle would be used. “Before anyone launches, they understand that unfortunate things could happen and that’s unfortunately part of the difficulties, hardships and risks of space flight,” said Rostohar.

Tani is the youngest of four children and his father passed away when Tani was young. A minister at a church in Lombard told the Tribune that Tani and his mother were “incredibly close.” During a spacewalk in November, Tani sent a greeting to his mother. “I know my mom’s watching on the Internet in Chicago, so hi Mom!” he said. “It’s always fun to have your folks watching you at work.”

Original News Source: Chicago Tribune