Apr 2

ISS and Exposed Pallet 9 at great conditions

It is really a good feeling to finally leave the past 6 months behind us and have some great opportunities for International Space Station imaging. Right away I had some exciting opportunities coming up when I could observe not only the ISS, but another object too. It was the so-called Exposed Pallet 9, an equipment that carried payload to the space station. It has been launched on a japanese HTV cargo spacecraft, namely the HTV-9 and carried the last round of the new Li-ion batteries to the orbiting laboratory. The crew replaced the old ones with more efficient new ones and after all job was done they placed all the old Ni-H2 batteries onto the pallet and jettisoned them with the Canaradarm 2 (video of the event here).




International Space Station

Imaging and results


But let’s streer back to the International Space Station imaging for a second. These are the flyby details from Heavens Above website.

Flyby events with a maximum elevation of around 65°-70° are one of the best opportunities in my opinion. They are not too high, therefore no need to flip the scope. But high enough to get sufficient amounts of details, also still relatively easy to manually track the object. I was really looking forward to it. The imaging went extremely well, I managed to gather loads of good frames.


Best frames from the entire flyby

Best moments of the flyby


I am very happy with the result, especially after such a long break! Maybe the most obvious object that is not part of the ISS is the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle (white blob) located at the Harmony module forward looking docking port. It won’t stay there for too long as it has to be relocated to the zenith (space facing) docking port of Harmony module. Then Crew-2’s Resilience vehicle will arrive toward the end of April which will take the freed up space at the forward looking port. When Crew-1’s Resilience vehicle will leave the ISS, a CRS-22 mission cargo vehicle will arrive and will replace Resilience at the zenith docking port. This dance is required, mainly because the first pair of the new solar arrays will arrive with the CRS-22 mission. Canadarm 2 (a robotic arm) will move the new arrays from Crew Dragon’s trunk section, but the robotic arm can only reach the payload only when the spacecraft is docked to the zenith docking port.


AI processing

A friend of mine Bence Abelovszky contacted me lately and asked me if I wanted to give a try to AI (Artificial Intelligence) processing. I never tried this method before, mainly because I lack both software and knowledge to do anything like that. So I said why not, if it will not add anything to the final result that should not be there… After all, I was actually quite curious!

Well shortly he sent me back the processed files and the surprise arrived with them as well. The details are clearly more vivid and one can make out much more of the finer details on the AI processed version (right) compared to the original (left). I am still not sure if this is the way forward, at least not fully convinced. I love what my eyes see, the algorithm clearly enhanced details which are actually there, yet were blurry before.
Having said that, I can imagine scenarios when the raw frames have less details and the AI software will make a great effort to create details which actually are not really there. AI processing seems to be a great tool, but I try to be cautious with the outcome. More similar tests will follow I think, I would like to see what the algorithm can do with transits and animations of other amateur photographers.



Exposed Pallet 9 (EP9)

These are the flyby details from Heavens Above website for the Exposed Pallet 9 flyby.


I have contacted Richard Cole shortly before this ISS pass. Mainly I did that because shortly before the ISS flyby I suddenly remembered the recently released exposed pallet. I knew it was still close to the space station, but I could not find it in Heavens Above. Richard is very knowledgeable when it comes to tracking objects orbiting Earth. He quickly helped me to find EP9 in the satellite catalog and soon it was obvious that EP9 is only a minute ahead of ISS almost exactly on the same trajectory.


I was nervously scanning the sky at the time EP9 was expected. I only spotted it when it was at its highest point during its flyby. It was around 0.0 magnitude at its brightest, visible even from London. I pointed my scope to EP9, but had no clue what I can expect on the outcome. Two things became obvious when I opened the raw frames. One – I managed to capture it and two – it is a tiny little object. Despite the very favourable conditions  the distortion on the object was quite heavy. I had to enlarge the frames and go through them one by one. Can be a very tiring job to find a few frames that look like the actual exposed pallet.

What makes this identification process even harder is the fact that I have no information about what I see on the raw frames. Meaning that I do not know if EP9 is rotating, if yes at what rate and which side am I supposed to see it? These are the questions I don’t think there are answers for. Anyway this is my most Exposed Pallet 9 looking photo.


Heavily enlarged and post-processed frame of EP9





Skywatcher 250/1200 Flextube dobson telescope
Zwo ASI224MC camera
TeleVue 2.5x powermate

London, UK


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