Mar 8

ISS – The historic ‘SpaceX Crew Dragon’ project


SpaceX and its historic Crew Dragon maiden flight

Half of the world held its breath when finally the SpaceX Falcon-9 left the iconic Lauch Pad 39A, atop of the rocket Crew Dragon which began its maiden flight. The original launch date was delayed by weeks, but finally on the 2nd March she was flying!
After launch I watched the Sunday live coverage of Crew Dragon’s approach to the International Space Station. It went flawlessly, the first part of the test went spot on. When I first saw the external camera footage from Crew Dragon showing ISS, well that was a watershed moment for me. I watched the russian dockings multiple times and got annoyed as well by those letters all over the screen, although it still looked so cool. But the telemetry from Crew Dragon is a step forward, it fun to watch!


Taking photos of this historic flight

(this post will summarise a few days of battling with weather conditions)

05.03.2019 (Tuesday)

Me being an ISS photographer and enthusiast, every mission heading to and from ISS is a photo opportunity. I had real high elevation flybys, which coincided with the launch so I felt like this is my time now. Weather had different ideas… It was non-stop cloudy, due weather I already missed the flyby when Crew Dragon was following ISS very closely just hours before docking. But I knew the spacecrafts will remained docked to the station till Friday midday 8th March. So my only hope was to wake up every morning and play russian roulette with weather gods.

This is the forecast for Tuesday flyby from Heavens Above website

My first very attempt happened on Tuesday (Monday was totally gloomy), when I left home starry sky welcomed. But whilst I did the setup of my equipment clouds rolled in and almost completely ruined my plans. I stayed regardless of the circumstances and I could only take photos through very thin clouds. For my biggest surprise it turned out to be okey, most importantly Crew Dragon was visible. I was very happy for that but I knew there is so much more in this project when weather cooperates….


07.03.2019 (Thursday)

So I simply could not allow this to be my best shot of the docked Crew Dragon, so I kept a close eye on the weather and flyby forecasts. Wednesday doom and gloom again, but Thursday looked 50-50% and Friday very promising.

This is the forecast for Thursday flyby from Heavens Above website

Thursday turned out to be the right opportunity with totally clear sky (and it remained clear this time around). So I did the preparations and the imaging. The cylindrical shape of the Dragon spacecraft is easily identifiable and ohh boy, she is HUGE! Plus she docked to Harmony module, but not to the nadir (Earth facing) side, but to the port where the Space Shuttles used to dock! So its position make it easy to identify. Also at the opposite end of the station at the russian segment there is the Progress MS-10 (70P) cargo spacecraft docked to Zvezda module.


Three explanatory photographs related to this animation above. I keep coming back to my video frames even after they were published. Because with some research some fantastic details can be discovered. In this case first I found a render of what it should look like when SpaceX Crew Dragon is docked to ISS. This is just to help you to see visually what is going on up there and what you should see on my photos.
This is a rendered photo, not real! There is one SpaceX vehicle on the photo – Crew Dragon docked to the Harmony module’s international docking adapter (on the right). Below that a the japanese HTV cargo spacecraft docked to the Harmony module’s nadir port. The third one is the Boeing Starliner docked to Harmony module’s zenith port facing toward space.

The second photo is a screenshot from the Crew Dragon approach and docking live coverage. The spacecraft was relatively close to ISS when we saw this phenomenal live view of the station from a very interesting point of view. Harmony module’s international docking adapter is right in front of us, in between the smaller Columbus module (left – ESA) and a slightly larger Kibo module (right – JAXA). Also Canadarm 2 is visible from this angle and very well observable. After I made the animation above, I spend some time just looking at it and I discovered on the sharper frames that Canadarm 2 is also visible (Canadarm 2 is 17.6 meter long when fully extended). So I watcher the docking live coverage again and found this solid evidence that what I think is Canadarm is actually Canadarm. Although this photo was taken a few days after docking, since Canadarm has no role to play in the docking procedure it is highly likely that they simply left it in this position.

Also the third photo is from the camera on board ISS. I follow Julian Danzer on youtube and he is broadcasting lots of live feed from cameras on ISS. This is a screenshot from a live video he broadcasted on the 7th March. On the top right corner the video clearly shows Canadarm 2.


I used my Skywatcher 10″ Flextube dobsonian telescope with a  Zwo ASI 224 MC colour camera and a TeleVue 2.5x powermate. This is the equipment I’ve been using since a while now and in this video I tell you how. None of these equipment components are specialised for ISS photography, anybody can purchase them in any any telescope shop.

Support me on my Patreon website.


Why are the International Space Station time lapse videos always blurry and shaky?



Photos about the SpaceX Crew Dragon mission



  1. Alex Mirza

    Great optics and video, seems like very well matched and amazing keeping it in the fov. Did you look at the screen? I took a dslr snap with 500mm lens and just got some detail but right exposure at least. The big chip means wider view.

  2. Szabolcs Nagy

    Thank you Alex!There is no time to look through the screen, because I need to look through Telrad to keep ISS in my FOV. But that is fine, if all the settings are correct and set as it should be set, that is the only thing I need to concentrate during a flyby 🙂 And this is why it takes so long to figure out the correct expo settings…
    My videos are recorded at 3000mm, ISS is like planets, you need focal length.

  3. Julien

    Whouaou… hon do you do the focus ?
    Goodies job!!!

  4. Szabolcs Nagy

    Hi Julien,
    Yes focus was always a big issue to me, I learned how to do it by eye on a star looking at the screen. But that’s not the proper way and I knew it too. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of Bahtinov mask, but I had to admit it is a bloody useful tool! Since I’ve been actively using it, focusing problem just disappeared, non-existent 😉 So yes, in my opinion Bahtinov mask is the way forward if focusing is a problem.

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