Progress Precedes Space Station Before Fiery Finale

An unpiloted ISS Progress resupply vehicle (top) approaches the International Space Station, carrying 2,050 pounds of space station propellant, 62 pounds of oxygen, 42 pounds of air, 926 pounds of water and 2,738 pounds of spare parts, crew supplies and equipment for the astronauts. Docking occurred back on Oct. 31, 2012. Credit: NASA

Feeling like your life needs some Progress? Here’s your chance to see some. The Russian cargo ship Progress 49 undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) Monday after delivering food, water, oxygen and scientific equipment some five months ago. It will return to Earth this Sunday stuffed to the gills with trash, all of it burning to toast when the craft re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and burns up over the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike the ISS, the Progress cargo ships are on the fainter side, only getting as bright as the Big Dipper stars at best. Typically, they’re around magnitude 3 to 5 and appear like a dim star crossing the sky. For the adventurous, click HERE and you’ll be taken to a special page to track the pair on the Visual SAT-Flare Tracker site. When you get there, use the Google map to pinpoint your location and then double-click it. Now scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see viewing times and other information for the ISS and Progress M17-M (same as Progress 49). Clicking on the satellite name will take you straight to a map showing its track across the sky. Good luck!

Progress 49 docked to the ISS. Credit: NASA

I hope you’ll get a nice pass of Progress before it goes ka-boom! At the moment it precedes the ISS by about 10 minutes. Progress 51 is next in line to fly needed supplies to the station. It will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Russia on April 24.

Even if you’re not game for the fainter cargo ship, be sure to check out the space station. It’s too bright to ignore.  I’ve listed viewing times for the Duluth, Minn. region below. You can find times for your town at Heavens Above and Spaceweather’s Satellite Flyby site

* Tonight Apr. 16 starting at 9:46 p.m. across the northern sky. Peak brightness -2.2 magnitude (Venus = -4.4, Jupiter = -2.5 for reference)
* Weds. Apr. 17 at  8:55 p.m. across the north. Peak -2.0
*Thurs. Apr. 18 at 9:41 p.m. high in the northern sky. Fades away into Earth’s shadow to the left or north of the bright orange star Arcturus about 9:45 p.m. Peak -3.0
Fri. Apr. 19 at 8:51 p.m. high in the northern sky. Peak -2.5
Sat. Apr. 20 at 9:36 p.m. high in the south. Disappears into Earth’s shadow at 9:41 p.m. above the bright star Spica in Virgo.  Peak -3.4
* Sun. Apr. 21 at 8:46 p.m. high across the southern sky.  Slices across the Bowl of the Big Dipper about 8:49 p.m. Peak -3.2