ISS Tracking

International Space Station. Credit: NASA

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.

Britain Proposes New International Space Station Modules


British scientists hope to improve living conditions on the International Space Station (ISS) by designing a new addition: the Habitation Extension Module (HEM). Although the plan is currently unofficial, it is hoped the proposal will get accepted and built for a 2011 launch. This would be a massive victory for UK space aspirations, as the nation currently does not have its own space agency and depends on project collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop new space technology. The new HEM design features the UK national flag, the Union Jack, perhaps a symbol for the beginning of a British foothold in space.

The proposed habitat design would actually consist of two modules attached to the Node 3 segment of the station. Intended to provide extra accommodation for six crew members (the station currently holds a complement of three astronauts), this design should be welcomed as the ISS is scheduled to accommodate six people in 2009, signifying that the station will move into a “fully operational” phase of its construction.

As the Space Shuttle would have retired by the time HEM is sent to the station, launch will depend on the Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket, and final approach to the station would use a built-in propulsion system. In addition to the module, three tons of supplies will be on board, stocking the ISS with food and equipment.

The proposed design will be 12.5 feet in diameter and 18.7 in length, adding a total of 3,531.5 cubic feet of living space. This 24% increase in space from the current living volume of 15,000 cubic feet would surely be a welcomed relief to the ISS occupants, making our only space station a more comfortable place to live and work.

The project would come with a pretty heavy price tag. Convincing the UK government to invest approximately £1 billion ($2 billion) in the construction and running of the module till 2015 might, however, stall the British desire for a strong presence in space.


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