Saturday morning marked a significant milestone in spaceflight: the successful maiden launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. For years, spaceflight has been ruled by governments and the military, but SpaceX is shaking things up by developing rockets on a purely commercial basis, and at a fraction of the price of competing offerings. SpaceX has had success in the past with its smaller Falcon 1 rocket, but the Falcon 9 is a much bigger machine: with around 20 times the payload capacity, it’s more than capable of launching crew and cargo to the ISS.
Conditions were perfect for watching last night’s overhead pass of the ISS, and I got a great view of it through my telescope. I think it could’ve been better, though — I used my 13mm Nagler eyepiece, so the magnification was perhaps a little high, which made tracking the ISS as it (very quickly) moved through the field of view very difficult. Even when I did get it in view and keep it there for a bit, it was still moving so fast across the field that it was all a bit of a blur. Next time, I think I’ll stick with my less powerful 21mm Stratus eyepiece, which should make it easier to both track the ISS, and to hold it still long enough to make out some good detail.
Speaking of next time, there’s actually another really good pass tomorrow night (the 4th), starting about 9:08pm. Here’s hoping today’s clouds have disappeared by then!
It’s a beautifully clear day outside today, and if it stays that way, I’ll be watching the ISS pass overhead tonight. The ISS passes overhead fairly often, but tonight’s showing is going to be particularly good, since it’s at a nice, easy viewing time (around 10pm), and it’ll be riding very high up in the sky, so it’ll be a great sight.
If you’re in Melbourne, and you want to check it out, head outside at 9:58PM and look north-west — you should very soon see a bright dot, climbing steadily up in to the sky, and growing brighter as it does. It’ll reach its highest point in the sky at 10:01, in the south-west, and then head back down to set in the south-east at 10:04. If you have a small telescope, or even binoculars, you should be able to make out some structure. Tracking it in a telescope will require quick movements, though!
If you miss tonight’s pass, you can get a list of other upcoming passes at Heavens Above.