Dec 7

SpaceX Dragon CRS-16 cargo spacecraft close up shot

(click on photos and animations for full screen view)

Right now as I am writing this post, the rendezvous of SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft just began. It is now approaching slowly the International Space Station getting closer to Canadarm, which is a robotic arm that will grapple the vessel and will eventually move to the Harmony nadir berthing port.

This post is about my attempt last night to capture a close up photograph of ISS and after that the Dragon cargo vessel too. Let me start with the end result, here is a shot of both of the objects.


Like every photo opportunity this one started with preparations. That is just as crucial part of the story as the actual imaging part. My first line information source was the website called Spot the Station. The top one was for the ISS, the bottom one for Dragon. And they appeared spot on, just as predicted. Excellent source!

From another website called Heavens Above also provided more details about distance, brightness and even a star chart. This help to navigate on the sky, set the telescope the best possible way, know exactly what constellations ISS will fly over. Huge help


International Space Station

The pass was incredible. Sky remained perfectly clear and despite the terrible wind and the jet stream, it all looked promising. As predicted ISS appeared at 17:29UTC at around 10° altitude and began to brighten up. I started the imaging of ISS from an altitude of 30°. Below you will see and animation of the frames. This time I did not delete the squashed, distorted photos because I wanted to show you all, what the frames look like after selection. Selection is automatic, I use a software called PIPP to keep the frames only that has ISS on it. So the frames are a tiny bit processed in Lightroom (brightness and clarity), but these are still semi-raw frames.

SpaceX Dragon CRS-16


I could not finish imaging ISS, because of the appearance of Dragon. According to the previous predictions Dragon supposed to be 2 minutes behind ISS following it on the same path in the sky. When ISS was getting away from my location and was at about 55-60° of altitude, quickly I looked back towards west and it was there. Fainter, but a steady light source following ISS almost exactly on the same fly path, only 2° lower.
So I stopped recording ISS, quickly applied the previously set camera settings in Fire Capture, started recording again and aimed the scope toward Dragon. First time with this camera so I really did not know what to expect honestly at the end.

I also tried to take photos with my Canon 600D camera with an 8mm Samyang fisheye lens. I do not really know why, but Dragon is very faint on them. I think my location is not really good, from this place the result never really satisfying at all….

So now I can proudly say finally! I took photos of all the currently used cargo vehicles servicing the International Space Station. Started with Cygnus OA-8 in December 2017, then the Progress MS-07 in April 2018, followed by HTV-7 in September 2018 and now SpaceX Dragon. It all happened in almost exactly 1 year time.

I am really happy right now!!

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


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