This was probably one of the finest moments since I have been taking photos of the International Space Station (ISS). Forward planning is key for these kind of events, but since success depends on so so many factors totally independent of me the only thing that can be done is waiting, preparing and hoping for the best.
I noticed a few days ago of a possibility of an event when the next crew (Expedition 61) will arrive to ISS at around 23:50 and roughy 10 minutes before that we are going to have a bright flyby over London. It was worth keeping an eye on the developments. The start of the MS-13 spacecraft was on time and it was on its 6.5 hours journey to ISS. As always the weather was probably one of the most important factor. Friends in Hungary and Poland had mostly cloudy skies so they missed this amazing event sadly.
NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos joined Expedition 60 Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch aboard the International Space Station.
So I went to the nearest park (Wimbledon Common) where I wanted to do two imaging attempts. First I waited for a lower ISS pass between 22:00-22:07 (with maximum elevation of 45°) and I was expecting the Soyuz minutes (around 10 mins) behind ISS. But shortly before my pass I received news from hungarian amateurs that according to their observation Soyuz is only a couple of minutes behind ISS. So when ISS appeared I started imaging and after it passed Jupiter I suddenly spotted the tiny spacecraft. Stopped ISS imaging, changed gain in Fire Capture software and started taking a video about Soyuz. None of the videos turned out to be good, but at least I saw them visually. Ohh and some south-korean guys watched it with me which was fun, they loved it!!
Then I hang around waiting for the next pass due between 23:37-23:43. Mind that the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft was due docking at 23:50. On my phone the live Nasa coverage was on and I saw on the left corner of the screen when they were showing the Soyuz external camera view that the distance between the spacecraft and ISS is rapidly decreasing. I really started to be worried, because at 23:32 they were already 0.8km away from ISS. Luckily they had to dock to the Zvezda aft docking port (the very end of russian segment), so they had to perform a fly around the station. I started recording the live coverage on my phone as soon as I first spotted the rising ISS, so this way I knew what part of the coverage coincided with my flyby. According to that when I recorded these images, the Soyuz spacecraft was only 75 metres away from ISS!! That is just mind blowing, the time was REALLY perfect, this probably only happens once in a lifetime… Here is the video I have recorded with my phone.
This event was something that I have only been dreaming of since I started taking photos of ISS. Again if they are launched a bit later, there is some issue on the way or they simply get a few minutes sooner or later to the ISS approach sequence, the whole attempt could have been a massive failure. But every now and than things just come to our way and if you are at the right place at the right time – well then you can see or capture something brilliant and wonderful!
Skywatcher 250/1200 Flextube dobson telescope
Zwo ASI224MC camera
TeleVue 2.5x powermate
Simultaneous imaging in London
Martin Lewis took some real fantastic photos as well, you can check out his results on his twitter account! Also Chris Hooker took a great photo as well which he published on the BAA website. UK rocks!!
Also my co-lecturer (details about ISS lectures in London below) Nicholas Joannou had an imaging attempt as well, sadly a technical bug prevented him from taking images of the approaching Soyuz spacecraft. But he did not give up and instead he took these amazing frames one full orbit later when Soyuz was already docked to ISS. This makes the whole story perfect!
And finally a 10 minutes long video in which I talk about this beautiful and successful day.
International Space Station imaging classes in London
A unique opportunity to learn how to take stunning images of the International Space Station (ISS) and the Lunar Landscape.
This will be the first from a series of five classes and will focus on Equipment, Planning and Setup. The classes can be taken individually or as a complete course and are structured to be suitable for all levels of experience, from the first time imager to seasoned astronomers and astrophotographers.
For more information click HERE.